Article in USGS Sound Waves monthly newsletter, June 2004: Integrated Science Team Deploys New Tools to Study Submarine Ground Water in North Carolina
The water resources and ecosystems of coastal North Carolina, especially the Lower Neuse River Estuary, are being stressed by population growth and industrial and agricultural development in the watershed. Particular issues of concern are eutrophication of surface waters from release of nutrients from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and other sources, migration of toxics from onshore sites to coastal waters, and plans for major interbasin and inter-aquifer transfer of water under Capacity Use Area efforts. The interaction of ground water and surface water, particularly near and beneath estuaries, is one of the parts of the region's hydrogeologic system that is least well understood. The particular role of permeable conduits such as paleochannels in carrying fresh water into and under estuaries, as well as allowing saltwater intrusion into aquifers on shore is a focus of current research. Because of the importance to coastal primary productivity and fisheries of healthy estuaries such as the Lower Neuse River, there is a critical management need to quantify all sources of nutrient loading in the system, and to determine if ecological patterns exist that correlate with nutrient discharge areas.
Recent work has demonstrated that the flux of ground water to the coastal ocean has long been underestimated. Furthermore, it is now recognized that this water flux can deliver a significant portion of the total nutrient load to coastal waters, yet such fluxes have been documented in relatively few locations. This project will consist of an interdisciplinary effort to address the flux of ground water and associated nutrients to the Lower Neuse River, North Carolina, focusing on the influences on regional water quality and ecosystem health; the results should be applicable to other similar coastal settings as well.