The high spatial variability of estuaries poses a challenge for characterizing estuarine water quality. This problem was examined by conducting monthly high-resolution transects for several water quality variables (chlorophyll a, suspended particulate matter and salinity) in San Francisco Bay (California, U.S.A.). Using these data, six different ways of choosing station locations along a transect, in order to estimate mean conditions, were compared. In addition, 11 approaches to estimating the variance of the transect mean when stations are equally spaced were compared, and the relationship between variance of the estimated transect mean and number of stations was determined. The results provide guidelines for sampling along the axis of an estuary: (1) Choose as many equally-spaced stations as practical; (2) estimate the variance of the mean y?? by var (y??)=(1/10n2)??(j=2)/(n) (y(j)-y(j-1)2, where y1,...,y(n) are the measurements at the n stations; and (3) attain the desired precision by adjusting the number of stations according to var(y??)???1/n2. The inverse power of 2 in the last step is a consequence of the underlying spatial correlation structure in San Francisco Bay; more studies of spatial structure at other estuaries are needed to determine the generality of this relationship.
Additional publication details
The design of sampling transects for characterizing water quality in estuaries