University Of Tasmania

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The divergent environmental characteristics of permanently-open,seasonally-open and normally-closed estuaries of south-western Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 07:05 authored by Chuwen, BM, Hoeksema, SD, Potter, IC
This study has compared the environmental characteristics of the basins and saline lower reaches of the tributaries of eight estuaries on the south coast of Western Australia, which differ in their degree of connectivity with the ocean. Although four estuaries between 115.1 and 121.8E along that coast remain permanently open to the ocean, the others only become open when the volume of river discharge is sufficient to breach the prominent sand bars at their mouths, which occurs annually following heavy winter and early spring rainfall in some estuaries (seasonally open) and infrequently in others (normally closed). Estuaries to the west of 118.5E are predominantly permanently open, e.g. Oyster Harbour, or seasonally open, e.g. Broke, Irwin and Wilson inlets, whereas those further east, e.g. Wellstead Estuary and Hamersley, Culham and Stokes inlets, where annual rainfall and thus discharge are much lower, only become open after exceptionally heavy discharge. In permanently and seasonally-open estuaries, pronounced haloclines and oxyclines are present in the narrow rivers but not the wide basins where the waters are subjected to wind-driven mixing. The extent of cyclical seasonal fluctuations in environmental conditions differed markedly among the three seasonally-open estuaries and between years in one of those systems. These differences reflected variations in the relationship between the volume of fluvial discharge, which is determined by a combination of the amount of local rainfall, catchment size and extent of clearing of native vegetation, and the amount of intrusion by marine waters, which is largely controlled by the size and duration of the opening of the estuary mouth. The mean seasonal salinities in the basins of the three normally-closed estuaries increased over three years of very low rainfall to 64 in the deepest of these estuaries (Stokes Inlet) to 145 in Hamersley Inlet and to 296 in the shallowest estuary (Culham Inlet). These results demonstrate that the environmental characteristics of estuaries on the south coast of Western Australia differ markedly, even among those of the same type, e.g. seasonally-open estuaries or normally-closed estuaries.


Publication title

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science










Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies



Place of publication

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

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Copyright © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. The definitive version is available at

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Expanding knowledge in the mathematical sciences