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Document Type

Book Chapter


Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



K.G. Sellner

Book Title

Hurricane Isabel in Perspective : Proceedings of a conference


Chesapeake Research Consortium, Inc.


Edgewater, Maryland


Water quality impacts from Tropical Cyclone Isabel on the York River estuary were assessed based on long-term, near-continuous, shallowwater monitoring stations along the York River proper (poly- and mesohaline regimes) and its two tidal tributaries—the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers (oligohaline and tidal freshwater regimes). Regional rainfall from 18 to 19 September 2003 ranged from 5.8 to 11.7 cm. Peak mean daily stream flow occurred on 21 September 2003 and represented a 20- and 30-fold increase over prestorm conditions on the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers, respectively. Isabel produced a storm surge of 1.7 m near the mouth of the estuary and 2.0 m in the upper tidal freshwater regions. The tidal surge resulted in a short-term (12- to 36-hour) pulse of high salinity water (approximately 10 ppt greater than pre-storm conditions) within the oligohaline portion of the estuary. In comparison, salinity levels within the upper tidal fresh water and down-river poly-and mesohaline regions remained relatively unchanged. Following the storm surge, salinity levels within lower portions of the estuary declined 1.5 to 4.5 ppt for an extended period in response to freshwater runoff. Elevated turbidity—in some cases extreme—was in direct response to the storm surge and waves associated with Tropical Cyclone Isabel. With the exception of a single station, maximum storm-associated turbidity levels varied between 192 and >1000 NTUs (nephelometric turbidity units). Turbidity levels returned to prestorm conditions within a 24- to 30-hour period at most stations. Perhaps the most significant environmental impact associated with the passage of Isabel was the persistent low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels (3–4 mg⋅L-1) that occurred at the tidal freshwater stations. Low DO at these stations coincided with increased freshwater inflow to the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers, suggesting augmented loadings of readily degradable organic material from the watershed. Mean daily DO levels took approximately two weeks to return to prestorm levels at these sites. Dissolved oxygen levels at the poly- and mesohaline stations within the York River proper remained at or above 5 mg⋅L-1 prior to, during, and after the storm’s passage.


Water Quality, Chesapeake Bay

Impacts of Tropical Cyclone Isabel on Shallow Water Quality of the York River Estuary