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Simulating and Mitigating the Effect of Climate Change on Estuarine Salinity Intrusion Using Data-Mining Techniques – A Case Study on the Lower Savannah River Estuary, GA

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The sustainable development of water resources requires the understanding of the interaction between natural processes of ecological systems and the social and economic drivers of societal systems. The interaction of natural and societal systems of coastal communities may be especially stressed in the future with potential climate change. Changes in hydrologic patterns along with sea-level rise may change the salinity intrusion dynamics along coastal rivers. There are many municipal water intakes along the Georgia and South Carolina coast that are proximal to the saltwater-freshwater interface of tidal rivers. An increase in the extent of saltwater intrusion along the coast due to climate changes could threaten freshwater intakes for several major cities along the coast. Water-resource managers need estimates of the change in the frequency, duration, and magnitude of salinity intrusion near their water intakes that may occur as a result of climate change. This paper describes the technical approach and results of two case studies where data-mining was applied to large-scale environmental monitoring networks on the Savannah River, Georgia.

Salinity intrusion results from the interaction of three principal forces - streamflow, mean tidal water-levels, and tidal range. To analyze and simulate salinity dynamics at critical coastal gages near four water intakes, data-mining techniques were applied to over ten years of hourly streamflow, coastal water-quality, and water-level data. Artificial neural network (ANN) models were trained to learn the specific variable interactions that cause salinity intrusions. The ANN models were able to convincingly reproduce historical salinity dynamic behaviors in both systems.

User-defined hydrologic and coastal water-level inputs from down-scaling of regional climate models can be simulated in the salinity intrusion models to evaluate various climate-change scenarios. The models for the estuary systems are deployed in a decision support system and disseminated as a spreadsheet application to facilitate the use of the models for management decisions by a variety of coastal water-resource managers. Preliminary model results near a municipal freshwater intake indicate that a sea-level rise of 1 foot (30 centimeter) would shift that area of the estuary from a freshwater to a brackish (salinity greater than 0.5 practical salinity units [psu]). For the 7½- year simulation period (July 1995 to December 2002), measured daily salinity values never exceed 0.5 psu at the Intersate-95 Bridge streamgage. A 1-ft sea-level rise increases the number of days to 47, or 2 percent of the time, and a 2-ft rise increases it to 278, or 12 percent of the time. The 1- and 2-ft sea-level rise would shift the portion of the estuary by I- 95 during periods of low streamflow from a tidal freshwater system (less than 0.5 psu) to an oligohaline system (less than 5.0 psu).Water-resource managers can use this information to plan mitigation efforts to adapt to potential effects from climate change.

A potential mitigation to the increased salinity intrusion would be to time pulses of increase flows to reduce the magnitude of the intrusion. Seven-day streamflow pulses of 4,500 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) were inserted into the constant 3,100 ft3/s streamflow condition. The streamflow pulses did substantially decrease the magnitude and duration of the salinity intrusion. The result of the streamflow pulse scenario demonstrates how alternative release patterns from Lake Thurmond could be utilized to possibly mitigate potential salinity changes in the Lower Savannah River Estuary.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

Brundtland Commission Report (United Nations, 1987)
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Keywords: Sustainability; artificial neural networks; climate change; data mining; municipal water intakes; salinity intrusion; sea-level rise

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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