Get Real-Time Water Info for Charleston Harbor, Edisto
In October 2015, a University of North Carolina Wilmington researcher noticed some unusual readings from a data logger located off the coast of South Carolina.
It was just after a historic rainfall event that had flooded homes and broke dams across the state. The site, 13 miles northeast of Charleston Harbor, was showing exceptionally decreased salinity levels – as low as 23 parts per thousand (ppt). She reached out to researchers at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) for a second opinion.
“Ocean salinity is pretty static,” said SCDNR marine scientist Dr. Denise Sanger. In our part of the Atlantic, the salt concentration is typically between 33 and 36 ppt – and wavers little. “So she wanted to know whether the readings were real or the instrument had stopped working.”
As the head of research for the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), Dr. Sanger oversees a network of data loggers that monitor water quality at various locations in the pristine, largely undeveloped watershed between Charleston and Beaufort. Biologists at a second NERR, the North Inlet-Winyah Bay NERR, conduct similar research in the northern part of the state.
But the site in question, where the researcher was getting unusual readings, falls between South Carolina’s two NERRs. There was no secondary site in that area to which they could look; someone would have to actually take a boat out to confirm the readings. As it turned out, a team of SCDNR researchers had already done that – they were able to determine that the measurements were indeed accurate. In the week following the rainfall event, SCDNR staff documented a plume of freshwater extending an astounding 18 miles off the coast of Georgetown.
But the moment drove home the importance of something that Sanger and partners were already working on –- a new location for data collection that would help bridge the gap between the ACE Basin, Winyah Bay, and offshore sites maintained by the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring.
“We wanted to make that onshore to offshore connection,” Sanger said of the new Charleston Harbor site, which was funded by the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). SECOORA uses technology on shore, ships, and at sea to help collect weather and climate information about the Atlantic Ocean – but it primarily works offshore, while NERRs like the one Sanger works for have traditionally collected water quality data where rivers meet oceans.
“Most often we’ve each worked independently in the offshore and estuarine environments, so one of the impetuses for starting this was the concept of getting us all working together,” Sanger said.
The exact location of the new site came from an opportunity to leverage a newly installed piling in the lower Charleston Harbor. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Charleston District required the installation of a new piling to monitor waves and currents in support of the Charleston Harbor deepening project, which is currently under construction.
"It made sense for the Department of Natural Resources to use the existing infrastructure in the Lower Harbor rather than create something new," said Bethney Ward, a biologist with USACE. "There is plenty of room on the piling, so we were happy to share the space in the interest of more data collection in the Charleston Harbor."
The real-time data – everything from temperature to turbidity levels – from the new site in Charleston Harbor are now publicly available online, along with measurements from numerous similar sites across the coast (including data loggers near Edisto Island, Willtown Bluff, Debidue Island, and Georgetown).
HOW TO USE THE REAL-TIME DATA
The new data logger in Charleston Harbor will help Dr. Sanger and other researchers better fulfill their missions to track and study water quality in coastal South Carolina – but if you live or work on the coast, the publicly available information might also be useful to you.
Captains concerned about the buoyancy of their vessels, anglers trying to target saltwater species, and impoundment operators raising water levels might all be interested in the salinity data these sites have to offer.
School teachers interested in bringing estuary science into the classroom can use the tool for a number of lessons.
And anyone else curious about what’s going on in our waters after a major weather event – from hurricanes to the cold weather snap this past January – can check in on the loggers to track changes in our waterways.
Here’s what measurements are currently collected at the sites:
- Dissolved oxygen (DO) – Low dissolved oxygen levels are a common cause of fish kills
- Salinity – Freshwater has zero salinity; seawater has approximately 35 ppt, and the tidal areas inbetween fluctuate with every tide
- Temperature – Important for looking at how temperature may be changing over the long term and short-term extreme events
- pH – a measurement of the acidity of the water
- Depth – Because of the constant movement of the tides, the depth of water at one location can change dramatically over 24 hours
- Turbidity – A measurement of the murkiness of the water
- Choose and click the station you’d like information from.
- Select if you'd like to see the last measurements collected, or if you want to graph the last 48 hours. You can then choose a measurement type that you’re interested in tracking.