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The concept of an estuary: A definition that incorporates systems which can become closed to the ocean and hypersaline

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 07:04 authored by Potter, IC, Chuwen, BM, Hoeksema, SD, Elliott, M
The majority of the definitions of estuaries have been based on the characteristics of estuaries in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. As previously pointed out (Day, 1980), such definitions do not take into account such features as periodic closure of their mouths and hypersaline conditions during dry periods, which characterise many estuaries in southern Africa and south-western Australia. There is also ambiguity as to whether an estuary sensu stricto must be fed by a river. The following definition was developed to encompass the main characteristics of all estuaries: An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of water that is either permanently or periodically open to the sea and which receives at least periodic discharge from a river(s), and thus, while its salinity is typically less than that of natural sea water and varies temporally and along its length, it can become hypersaline in regions when evaporative water loss is high and freshwater and tidal inputs are negligible. Estuaries are thus regarded as unique ecosystems, which, in the case of fishes, for example, are occupied by species that collectively represent a particular suite of guilds.


Publication title

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science








Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Academic Press Ltd Elsevier Science Ltd

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24-28 Oval Rd, London, England, Nw1 7Dx

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Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. The definitive version is available at

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