Abstract – Sensitivity of Circulation in the Skagit River Estuary to Sea Level Rise and Future Flows


Sensitivity of Circulation in the Skagit River Estuary to Sea Level Rise and Future Flows

Tarang Khangaonkar, Wen Long, Brandon Sackmann, Teizeen Mohamedali and Alan F. Hamlet

Future climate simulations based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions scenario (A1B) have shown that the Skagit River flow will be affected, which may lead to modification of the estuarine hydrodynamics. There is considerable uncertainty, however, about the extent and magnitude of resulting change, given accompanying sea level rise and site-specific complexities with multiple interconnected basins. To help quantify the future hydrodynamic response, we developed a three-dimensional model of the Skagit River estuary using the Finite Volume Community Ocean Model (FVCOM). The model was set up with localized high-resolution grids in Skagit and Padilla Bay sub-basins within the intermediate-scale FVCOM based model of the Salish Sea (greater Puget Sound and Georgia Basin). Future changes to salinity and annual transport through the basin were examined. The results confirmed the existence of a residual estuarine flow that enters Skagit Bay from Saratoga Passage to the south and exits through Deception Pass. Freshwater from the Skagit River is transported out in the surface layers primarily through Deception Pass and Saratoga Passage, and only a small fraction (∼ 4%) is transported to Padilla Bay. The moderate future perturbations of A1B emissions, corresponding river flow, and sea level rise of 0.48 m examined here result only in small incremental changes to salinity structure and interbasin freshwater distribution and transport. An increase in salinity of ∼1 psu in the near-shore environment and a salinity intrusion of approximately 3 km further upstream is predicted in Skagit River, well downstream of drinking water intakes.


Received: September 1, 2014; Accepted: August 26, 2015

Keywords: sea level rise, future hydrology, estuarine circulation, Skagit River, salinity intrusion