The planned removal of two dams on the Elwha River, Washington, will likely increase river sediment flux to the coast, which may alter coastal habitats through sedimentation and turbidity. It is therefore important to characterize the current habitat conditions near the river mouth, so that future changes can be identified. Here we provide combined sonar and video mapping results of approximately 20 km2 of seafloor offshore of the Elwha River collected with the purpose to characterize nearshore substrate type and distribution prior to dam removal. These combined data suggest that the nearshore of the western delta and Freshwater Bay are dominated by coarse sediment (sand, gravel, cobble, and boulders) and bedrock outcrops; no fine-grained sediment (mud or silt) was identified within the survey limits. The substrate is generally coarser in Freshwater Bay and on the western flank of the delta, where boulders and bedrock outcrops occur, than directly offshore and east of the river mouth. High variation in substrate was observed within much of the study area, however, and distinct boulder fields, gravel beds and sand waves were observed with spatial scales of 10-100 m. Gravel beds and sand waves suggest that sediment transport is active in the study area, presumably in response to tidal currents and waves. Both historic (1912) and recent (1989-2004) distributions of Bull Kelp (Nereocystis sp.) beds were preferentially located along the boulder and bedrock substrates of Freshwater Bay. Although kelp has also been mapped in areas dominated by gravel and sand substrate, it typically has smaller canopy areas and lower temporal persistence in these regions.
Additional publication details
Nearshore substrate and morphology offshore of the Elwha River, Washington