Relations among floodplain water levels, instream dissolved-oxygen conditions, and streamflow in the lower Roanoke River, North Carolina, 1997-2001

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4295




The lower Roanoke River corridor in North Carolina contains a floodplain of national significance. Data from a network of 1 streamflow-measurement site, 13 river-stage sites, 13 floodplain water-level sites located along 4 transects, and 5 in situ water-quality monitoring sites were used to characterize temporal and spatial variations of floodplain and river water levels during 1997-2000 and to describe dissolved-oxygen conditions in the lower Roanoke River for the period 1998-2001. Major differences in the relation of floodplain inundation to flow occurred both among sites at a given transect and among transects. Several floodplain sites were inundated for the full range of flow conditions measured during the study. These included one site on the Big Swash transect (at about river kilometer 119); one site on the Broadneck Swamp transect (river kilometer 97), which was inundated 91 percent of the time during the study; one site on the Devils Gut transect (river kilometer 44), which was inundated throughout the study; and three sites on the Cow Swamp transect (near river kilometer 10). The relation of floodplain inundation depth to Roanoke River flow was highly variable among sites. There was no relation between flow and inundation depth at one of the Big Swash sites or at any of the four Cow Swamp sites. At two of the Big Swash transect sites, there was some relation between inundation depth and 10-day mean flow for flows greater than 700 cubic meters per second. A relatively strong relation between inundation depth and 10-day mean flow occurred at two of the Broadneck Swamp sites and, to a lesser degree, at two of the Devils Gut transect sites. There was much greater interannual variability in floodplain water levels, as represented by the difference between the maximum and minimum daily water level for a given calendar date during January-May and September-October than during the summer and late fall months. If data from this study are representative of long-term conditions, then this means that there is less uncertainty about what future floodplain water levels will be during June-August and November-December than during other months. Rates of ground-water decline, primarily due to evapotranspiration, were fairly similar at all sites, ranging from about 3 to 4 centimeters per day. For a 10-day mean flow of 300 cubic meters per second, an evaporative loss of 2 centimeters per day is equal to about 56 cubic meters per second. Evapotranspiration rates are much lower during the fall and winter months, so losses of river flow to floodplain processes likely are much lower during those months. The ground-water gradient at most sites was from the floodplain to the river, indicating a potential for ground-water movement into the river from the floodplain. At two of the Devils Gut sites, however, the water level often was higher in the river than in the floodplain when floodplain sites were not inundated. This indicates that there is a potential for river water to move as ground water from the river into the floodplain. It seems likely that this feature observed at the Devils Gut transect occurs elsewhere in the lower Roanoke River corridor. Dissolved-oxygen concentrations typically decrease with increasing distance from Roanoke Rapids Dam. During the 1998-2001 study period, the median dissolved-oxygen concentration at Halifax (river kilometer 187), the upstream-most station, was 8.4 milligrams per liter, and the median concentration at the downstream-most station (NC-45, bottom sensor; river kilometer 2.6) was 6.6 milligrams per liter. Several synoptic measurements of dissolved-oxygen concentration down the river identified the presence of a dissolved-oxygen sag in the vicinity of Halifax, with some recovery of concentrations between Halifax and about Scotland Neck at river kilometer 156. Data from the synoptic measurements also indicated that the greatest rate of dissolved-oxygen change with distance along the riv

Study Area

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Relations among floodplain water levels, instream dissolved-oxygen conditions, and streamflow in the lower Roanoke River, North Carolina, 1997-2001
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
viii, 81 p. : col. ill., col. maps ; 28 cm.
United States
North Carolina
Other Geospatial:
Roanoke River