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2016-2018 Research Projects: The Coastal and Ocean Landscape

Project: How does coastal development impact groundwater inputs to estuarine tidal creeks?

Principal Investigators

Alicia Wilson, Ph.D.; University of South Carolina, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences
Erik Smith, Ph.D.; University of South Carolina, Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences

Project Number


Research Description

Water quality in tidal creeks differs between developed and undeveloped watersheds, particularly in headwater areas. Prior studies on the impact of development on coastal ecosystems have focused on surface waters; however, hydrologic changes associated with development potentially affect groundwater as well. In particular, the delivery of nutrients to creeks by groundwater could impact both nutrient concentration and form.

The overall goal of this research is to assess the impact of coastal development on groundwater inputs of nutrients and other dissolved constituents to South Carolina tidal creeks. A stakeholder workshop will be convened to help researchers identify tidal creeks representing differing levels of development. Researchers will sample 14 tidal creeks from a range of watershed development levels to determine groundwater nutrient composition. Phytoplankton communities will be evaluated at the test sites through bioassays to assess response to variation in groundwater nutrient concentration and speciation.

Based on these measurements, researchers will develop models to predict relationships between groundwater characteristics and site characteristics. These findings will also be incorporated into existing predictive models to better describe the influence of continued coastal development on tidal creeks and results will be distributed to target audience and stakeholder groups.

Research Results

Shanahan, Meghan. “The Impact of Upland Development and Marsh Width on Groundwater Composition in Estuarine Tidal Creeks in the Southeastern Coastal United States .” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 2018.

Contact for Questions

Alicia Wilson (