Estuarine Seabed & Shoreline Processes

Estuarine Seabed and Shoreline Processes

Pamlico Sound Shoreline

An estuarine shoreline in the Pamlico Sound.

Estuaries are semi-enclosed bodies of water where freshwater mixes with seawater and are critical ecological areas because of their biological productivity and valuable habitat. Estuarine behavior is influenced by its morphology and exchange of water, sediments and solutes. Shoreline change and seabed sedimentation are important processes influencing estuaries. Also, human activities on land and in the sea have impacted the form and function of these systems. Current estuarine seabed and shoreline processes is aimed at quantifying and understanding estuarine system dynamics, particularly the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System.

Example publications:

Eulie, D. J.P. Walsh, D.R. Corbett, 2013. High-Resolution Measurements of
Shoreline Change and Application of Balloon-Aerial Photography,
Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System,
North Carolina, USA. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods. 11,

Cowart, L., D.R. Corbett, J.P. Walsh, 2011. Shoreline Change along
Sheltered Coastlines: Insights from the Neuse River Estuary, NC.
Remote Sensing, 3, 1516-1534.

Kirwan, M., A.B. Murray, J.P. Donnelly, D.R. Corbett, 2011 Rapid wetland
expansion during European settlement and its implication for marsh
survival under modern sediment delivery rates. Geology, 39(5) 507-510.

Cowart, L., Walsh, J.P. and D.R. Corbett. 2010. Analyzing Estuarine
Shoreline Change: A Case Study of Cedar Island, NC. Journal of Coastal
Research, 6(5): 817-830.

Featured Research

Shoreline Mapping Project

Estuarine shoreline erosion

Estuarine shoreline erosion on the sound side of Hatteras Island.

The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System is the second largest estuarine system in the U.S. It is home to many critical habitats, making these areas invaluable environmentally and economically (e.g., for commercial fishing and tourism). With coastal development, regular storms and accelerating sea-level rise, estuaries are expected to be altered over time, but the nature of changes requires better understanding.  North Carolina has over 12,000 linear miles of estuarine shoreline, compared to 325 linear miles of beach front shoreline.  Much of this shoreline is at risk for, or is currently experiencing erosion from storm events and other coastal hazards. CSI scientists are interested in studying the location of current and past shorelines, to better understand how these shorelines have changed over time and how they may change in the future.

The Division of Coastal Management teamed up with scientists from CSI to make the first digital map of North Carolina’s shoreline.  Utilizing aerial images and GIS computer technology, the CSI researchers created a digital map from the coast going inland, covering the entire estuarine shoreline.  This map will serve as baseline data for managers and researchers going forward.  The project also took into account modifications made to the shoreline, if any were present.  The study revealed that 5-10% of North Carolina estuarine shoreline has been modified.  This number represents a a relatively low percentage of altered shoreline, and is something that North Carolina should be proud of, according to Dr. Reide Corbett, CSI Coastal Processes Co-Program Head.  This information will prove valuable for researchers who want to know where changes are occurring and how they are occurring, so that managers can make informed decisions in the future.


Shoreline Mapping Project Video