Geographic signatures are physical, chemical, biotic, and human-induced characteristics or processes that help define similar or unique features of estuaries along latitudinal or geographic gradients. Geomorphologically, estuaries of the northeastern U.S., from the Hudson River estuary and northward along the Gulf of Maine shoreline, are highly diverse because of a complex bedrock geology and glacial history. Back-barrier estuaries and lagoons occur within the northeast region, but the dominant type is the drowned-river valley, often with rocky shores. Tidal range and mean depth of northeast estuaries are generally greater when compared to estuaries of the more southern U.S. Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico. Because of small estuarine drainage basins, low riverine flows, a bedrock substrate, and dense forest cover, sediment loads in northeast estuaries are generally quite low and water clarity is high. Tidal marshes, seagrass meadows, intertidal mudflats, and rocky shores represent major habitat types that fringe northeast estuaries, supporting commercially-important fauna, forage nekton and benthos, and coastal bird communities, while also serving as links between deeper estuarine waters and habitats through detritus-based pathways. Regarding land use and water quality trends, portions of the northeast have a history of over a century of intense urbanization as reflected in increased total nitrogen and total phosphorus loadings to estuaries, with wastewater treatment facilities and atmospheric deposition being major sources. Agricultural inputs are relatively minor throughout the northeast, with relative importance increasing for coastal plain estuaries. Identifying geographic signatures provides an objective means for comparing the structure function, and processes of estuaries along latitudinal gradients.
Additional publication details
Estuaries of the northeastern United States: Habitat and land use signatures