Hydrologic and salinity characteristics of Currituck Sound and selected tributaries in North Carolina and Virginia, 1998–99

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2001-4097
Prepared in cooperation with the North Carolina Division of Water Resources and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries
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Abstract

Data collected at three sites in Currituck Sound and three tributary sites between March 1, 1998, and February 28, 1999, were used to describe hydrologic and salinity characteristics of Currituck Sound. Water levels and salinity were measured at West Neck Creek at Pungo and at Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal near Princess Anne in Virginia, and at Coinjock, Bell Island, Poplar Branch, and Point Harbor in North Carolina. Flow velocity also was measured at the West Neck Creek and Coinjock sites.

The maximum water-level range during the study period was observed near the lower midpoint of Currituck Sound at Poplar Branch. Generally, water levels at all sites were highest during March and April, and lowest during November and December. Winds from the south typically produced higher water levels in Currituck Sound, whereas winds from the north typically produced lower water levels. Although wind over Currituck Sound is associated with fluctuations in water level within the sound, other mechanisms, such as the effects of wind on Albemarle Sound and on other water bodies south of Currituck Sound, likely affect low-frequency water-level variations in Currituck Sound.

Flow in West Neck Creek ranged from 313 cubic feet per second to the south to -227 cubic feet per second to the north (negative indicates flow to the north). Flow at the Coinjock site ranged from 15,300 cubic feet per second to the south to -11,700 cubic feet per second to the north. Flow was to the south 68 percent of the time at the West Neck Creek site and 44 percent of the time at the Coinjock site. Daily flow volumes were calculated as the sum of the instantaneous flow volumes. The West Neck Creek site had a cumulative flow volume to the south of 7.69 x 108 cubic feet for the period March 1, 1998, to February 28, 1999; the Coinjock site had a cumulative flow volume to the north of -1.33 x 1010 cubic feet for the same study period.

Wind direction and speed influence flow at the West Neck Creek and Coinjock sites, whereas precipitation alone has little effect on flow at these sites. Flow at the West Neck Creek site is semidiurnal but is affected by wind direction and speed. Flow to the south (positive flow) was associated with wind speeds averaging more than 15 miles per hour from the northwest; flow to the north (negative flow) was associated with wind speeds averaging more than 15 miles per hour from the south and southwest. Flow at the Coinjock site reacted in a more unpredictable manner and was not affected by winds or tides in the same manner as West Neck Creek, with few tidal characteristics evident in the record.

Throughout the study period, maximum salinity exceeded 3.5 parts per thousand at all sites; however, mean and median salinities were below 3.5 parts per thousand at all sites except the Point Harbor site (3.6 and 4.2 parts per thousand, respectively) at the southern end of the sound. Salinities were less than or equal to 3.5 parts per thousand nearly 100 percent of the time at the Bell Island and Poplar Branch sites in Currituck Sound and about 86 percent of the time at the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal site north of the sound. Salinity at the West Neck Creek and Coinjock sites was less than or equal to 3.5 parts per thousand about 82 percent of the time.

During this study, prevailing winds from the north were associated with flow to the south and tended to increase salinity at the West Neck Creek and the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal sites. Conversely, these same winds tended to decrease salinity at the other sites. Prevailing winds from the south and southwest were associated with flow to the north and tended to increase salinity at the Poplar Branch and Point Harbor sites in Currituck Sound and at the Coinjock site, but these same winds tended to decrease salinity at the West Neck Creek and the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal sites. The greatest variations in salinity were observed at the northernmost site, West Neck Creek, and thesouthernmost site, Point Harbor. The least variation in salinity was observed at the upper midpoint of the sound at the Bell Island site.

Daily salt loads were computed for 364 days at the West Neck Creek site and 348 days at the Coinjock site from March 1, 1998, to February 28, 1999. The cumulative salt load at West Neck Creek was 28,170 tons to the south, and the cumulative salt load at the Coinjock site was -872,750 tons to the north.

The cumulative salt load passing the West Neck Creek site during the study period would be 0.01 part per thousand if uniformly distributed throughout the sound (approximately 489,600 acre-feet in North Carolina). If the cumulative salt load passing the Coinjock site were uniformly distributed throughout the sound, the salinity in the sound would be 0.32 part per thousand. The net transport at the West Neck Creek and Coinjock sites indicates inflow of salt into the sound. A constant inflow of freshwater from tributaries and ground-water sources also occurs; however, the net flow volumes from these freshwater sources are not documented, and the significance of these freshwater inflows toward diluting the net import of salt into the sound is beyond the scope of this study.

Suggested Citation

Caldwell, W.S., 2001, Hydrologic and salinity characteristics of Currituck Sound and selected tributaries in North Carolina and Virginia, 1998–99: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2001–4097, 36 p., https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri014097.

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data collection
  • Hydrologic characteristics
  • Salinity characteristics
  • Summary
  • References

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrologic and salinity characteristics of Currituck Sound and selected tributaries in North Carolina and Virginia, 1998–99
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2001-4097
DOI 10.3133/wri014097
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description v, 36 p.
Country United States
State North Carolina, Virginia
Other Geospatial Currituck Sound