Freshwater Estuaries

salt-wedge | fjord | slightly stratified | vertically mixed | freshwater

We normally think of estuaries as places where rivers meet the sea, but this is not always the case. Freshwater or Great Lakes-type estuaries do not fit the definition of a brackish water estuary where freshwater and seawater mix.

Freshwater estuaries are semi-enclosed areas of the Great Lakes in which the waters become mixed with waters from rivers or streams. Although these freshwater estuaries do not contain saltwater, they are unique combinations of river and lake water, which are chemically distinct. Unlike brackish estuaries that are tidally driven, freshwater estuaries are storm-driven. In freshwater estuaries the composition of the water is often regulated by storm surges and subsequent seiches (vertical oscillations, or sloshing, of lake water). While the Great Lakes do exhibit tides, they are extremely small. Most changes in the water level are due to seiches, which act like tides, exchanging water between the river and the lake.

Old Woman Creek is a freshwater estuary located on the south-central shore of Lake Erie in Ohio. Tidal changes in water level only average about 3 cm. As a storm-driven estuary system, during periods of low water flow, a barrier sand beach will often close the mouth of the estuary, isolating it from Lake Erie. Water movement through the sand barrier beach is generally very limited. (Photo: Old Woman Creek NERRS site)


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