Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 573–592 | Cite as

Transport and Dispersion of a Conservative Tracer in Coastal Waters with Large Intertidal Areas

  • J. O. BlantonEmail author
  • A. J. Garrett
  • J. S. Bollinger
  • D. W. Hayes
  • L. D. Koffman
  • J. Amft


In late December 1991, an accidental release of 5,700 CI of tritiated water (HTO) from the Savannah River Site was transported via site streams into the Savannah River where it was carried downstream to the coastal zone. HTO released into a semitropical Georgia estuary was forced into the tidal marshes surrounding the estuary as well as discharged directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The spreading of HTO was studied with a 3D hydrodynamic model (ALGE) that includes flooding and draining of intertidal areas. Comparisons of model simulations to measured HTO concentration showed that ALGE simulated well the general increase and decrease of HTO as its plume passed a given area. The “sheet flow” approximation for marsh and small tidal creek flow largely compensated for lack of model resolution and accurate bathymetry in areas with numerous small to medium-sized tidal creeks. The water volume of the unresolved tidal creeks had to be accounted for in the simulations by increasing the initial water depth over the marshes. ALGE and a simple box model both reproduced the trapping of HTO in intertidal areas. The time scale over which intertidal areas import and export HTO back to the tidal channels varies between 10 and 30 days.


Conservative tracers Tritium Hydrodynamic modeling Estuarine Coastal circulation 



There were many people too numerous to specifically mention who were responsible for the success of the HTO sampling project at the time following the 1991 release. Among the many, we wish to single out a few of the people and agencies who made indispensable contributions to this study. The able crew of the R/V BLUE FIN of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the R/V SEA DAWG of the University of Georgia Marine Extension gave us dedicated enthusiasm and support in the carrying out of the sampling work offshore and in the navigable waterways and estuaries. Particular thanks go to James Gault, Jay Fripp, and Jim Whitted. We also acknowledge the valuable assistance of the following agencies and their representatives who provided the resources, dedication, and perseverance day and night in obtaining the data reported here: Cliff Blackman, Jim Hardeman, and Duane Harris at GA Department of Natural Resources, Professor Matt Gilligan and students from Savannah State University, Personnel at South Carolina DNR, Professor Jim Alberts, past Director of the University of GA Marine Science Institute, Sapelo Is, GA, Dee King, Clark Alexander, Russ Bulluck, and Barbara Blanton at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Donna Beals, Jim Cadieux, Phil Bowman, Ron Johnson, and many other people at Savannah River National Laboratory helped collect and analyze the hundreds of tritium samples that were discussed in this paper. We gratefully acknowledge the following agencies that supported the work described in this paper: the Georgia Coastal Zone Management Program (Grant No. RR100-279/9262764), National Science Foundation LTER (Grant No. OCE-9982133), and the Department of Energy (Contract No. DE-AC09-96SR18500).


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Copyright information

© U.S. Government 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. O. Blanton
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. J. Garrett
    • 2
  • J. S. Bollinger
    • 2
  • D. W. Hayes
    • 2
  • L. D. Koffman
    • 2
  • J. Amft
    • 1
  1. 1.Skidaway Institute of OceanographySavannahUSA
  2. 2.Savannah River National LaboratoryAikenUSA

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