Hydrology of major estuaries and sounds of North Carolina

Water Supply Paper 2221
By: , and 



Hydrology-related problems associated with North Carolina 's major estuaries and sounds include contamination of some estuaries with municipal and industrial wastes and drainage from adjacent, intensively farmed areas, and nuisance-level algal blooms. In addition, there is excessive shoaling in some navigation channels, salt-water intrusion into usually fresh estuarine reaches, too high or too-low salinities in nursery areas for various estuarine species, and flood damage due to hurricanes. The Cape Fear River is the only major North Carolina estuary having a direct connection to the sea. Short-term flow throughout most of its length is dominated by ocean tides. Freshwater entering the major estuaries is, where not contaminated, of acceptable quality for drinking with minimum treatment. However, iron concentrations in excess of 0.3 milligrams per liter sometimes occur and water draining from swampy areas along the Coastal Plain is often highly colored, but these problems may be remedied with proper treatment. Nuisance-level algal blooms have been a recurring problem on the lower estuarine reaches of the Neuse, Tar-Pamlico, and Chowan Rivers where nutrients (compounds of phosphorous and nitrogen) are abundant. The most destructive blooms tend to occur in the summer months during periods of low freshwater discharge and relatively high water temperatures. Saltwater intrusion occurs from time to time in all major estuaries except the Roanoke River, where releases from Roanoke Rapids Lake and other reservoirs during otherwise low-flow periods effectively block saline water from the estuary. New shoaling materials found in the lower channelized reaches of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers are primarily derived, not from upstream sources, but from nearby shore erosion, from slumping of material adjacent to the dredged channels, from old spoil areas, or from ocean-derived sediments carried upstream by near-bottom density currents.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrology of major estuaries and sounds of North Carolina
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 2221
DOI 10.3133/wsp2221
Year Published 1985
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description Report: xi, 108 p.; 1 Plate: 19.30 x 18.45 inches
Country United States
State North Carolina
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