, Volume 129, Issue 1-3, pp 397-412
Date: 03 Feb 2007

A Classification of U.S. Estuaries Based on Physical and Hydrologic Attributes

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A classification of U.S. estuaries is presented based on estuarine characteristics that have been identified as important for quantifying stressor–response relationships in coastal systems. Estuaries within a class have similar physical and hydrologic characteristics and would be expected to demonstrate similar biological responses to stressor loads from the adjacent watersheds. Nine classes of estuaries were identified by applying cluster analysis to a database for 138 U.S. estuarine drainage areas. The database included physical measures of estuarine areas, depth and volume, as well as hydrologic parameters (i.e., tide height, tidal prism volume, freshwater inflow rates, salinity, and temperature). The ability of an estuary to dilute or flush pollutants can be estimated using physical and hydrologic properties such as volume, bathymetry, freshwater inflow and tidal exchange rates which influence residence time and affect pollutant loading rates. Thus, physical and hydrologic characteristics can be used to estimate the susceptibility of estuaries to pollutant effects. This classification of estuaries can be used by natural resource managers to describe and inventory coastal systems, understand stressor impacts, predict which systems are most sensitive to stressors, and manage and protect coastal resources.