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About Estuaries Logo Estuarine Dynamics
Weather, Seasons and Climate Create Change in Estuaries     

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Want to Learn More?

The Constantly Changing Estuary
Tides Create Cyclical Changes in Estuaries
Classifying Estuaries by Water Circulation
Water Depth and Estuary Location
Weather, Seasons and Climate Create Change in Estuaries


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Weather patterns, seasonal cycles and climate change affect and change conditions in estuaries. The Earth’s climate is warming at a faster rate than normal. This warming is causing sea level to rise, which may ultimately result in flooded and lost estuaries.

Weather patterns, seasonal cycles and climate change affect and change conditions in estuaries such as structure, temperature and water quantity and quality.

When wind blows across water, waves are formed. Waves carry energy and help stir up and mix nutrients, silt and decaying matter in an estuary. Large waves, often caused by storms, travel in from the ocean and carry lots of energy. This energy is released when the waves crash and pound into barrier reefs, sandbars and the open shore. The pounding energy can wash away sediments. Waves can also pound logs and debris that disturb sediment and sessile animals such as mussels and barnacles shores.

In addition to waves, currents caused by wind can cause changes to estuaries. Currents move sand and sediment in and out of estuaries and can erode away shorelines. Currents move floating organisms, such as phytoplankton and jellyfish, and plants through an estuary. Currents also deposit sediment, replenishing barrier islands and sandbars.

Seasonal cycles cause change in estuaries by bringing varying amounts of rainfall, changing temperatures, and sunlight. In some parts of the U.S., spring brings much rain. This deluge of freshwater flow can flush estuaries of excess debris and stir rich nutrients. Often, summer brings hot and dry spells which can cause parts of estuaries to become still and stagnant creating low oxygen content and high temperatures. In northern estuaries, winter can bring ice sheets which scour and gouge algae and invertebrates off rocks, or freeze and kill off shellfish populations.

Seasonal storms, such as hurricanes, can tear up shorelines, redistribute sand from one place to another, remove sediment and mud, deposit debris and dead material that can suffocate living vegetation, and tear up vegetation. Strong winds drive storm surges and crashing waves into land, damaging habitats and pushing salt water up rivers. However, storm surges can be helpful to estuaries by removing dead vegetation.

In addition floods result in reduced salinity, and drought can result in higher salinity. Estuarine organisms cope by moving out of unfavorable areas, shutting up shells, digging borrows and excretion of excess salts.

Recently scientists have discovered that the Earth’s climate is warming at a faster rate that normal. This warming is likely caused by human activities that create excess carbon in the atmosphere. This change is also slowly warming the Earth’s oceans. This warming is causing glaciers to melt, while also causing ocean water to expand as it heats up. These two factors are raising sea levels and threatening to flood estuaries. This sea level rise is happening relatively quickly and is decreasing the health of our world’s estuaries.

Last Updated on: 05-26-2011


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