Movement and dispersion of soluble pollutants in the Northeast Cape Fear Estuary, North Carolina

Water Supply Paper 1873-E




This report presents the results of a fluorescent-dye-tracing study to determine the concentrations of a pollutant that would be present in the Northeast Cape Fear Estuary at various rates of continuous waste injection and freshwater inflow. Rhodamine WT dye was introduced into the estuary at a constant rate over a 24.8-hour period (two tidal cycles) at a point 6.4 miles upstream from the mouth in Wilmington, N.C., and concentrations were monitored at several selected sections in the tide-affected part of the river for 17 days. The range between high and low tide in this reach of the estuary averages at-rut 3.5 feet, and there is usually strong flow in both directions. Results of the dye study indicate that if a pollutant were injected at a rate of 100 pounds per day under the conditions of relatively low inflow existing' at the time, concentrations would ultimately build up to 20 micrograms of dye per liter of water 1,000 feet downstream. The flushing time during the study is estimated to be 17 days. These results are extrapolated to include periods of lower or higher inflow. For example, at average intervals of 10 years, it is estimated that inflow is so low that 100 days are required for a pollutant to travel the 6.4 miles from the point of waste release to the mouth of the river. Under these conditions it is expected that 1,000 feet downstream from the point of waste discharge, daily maximum concentrations will average about 130 micrograms per liter for each 100 pounds of pollutant injected per day. Results of a continuous discharge measurement of flow made by current meter during a complete tidal cycle are presented as a part of this report. Data from this measurement and other evidence indicate that net upstream flow in the estuary is possible over a period of several days.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Movement and dispersion of soluble pollutants in the Northeast Cape Fear Estuary, North Carolina
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
v, 31 p. :illus. ;24 cm.
United States
North Carolina
Other Geospatial:
Cape Fear Estuary