Date of this Version
Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 51(2): 513-536.
Estuarine ecosystems are largely influenced by watersheds directly connected to them. In the Mobile Bay, Alabama watersheds we examined the effect of land cover and land use (LCLU) changes on discharge rate, water properties, and submerged aquatic vegetation, including freshwater macrophytes and seagrasses, throughout the estuary. LCLU scenarios from 1948, 1992, 2001, and 2030 were used to influence watershed and hydrodynamic models and evaluate the impact of LCLU change on shallow aquatic ecosystems. Overall, our modeling results found that LCLU changes increased freshwater flows into Mobile Bay altering temperature, salinity, and total suspended sediments (TSS). Increased urban land uses coupled with decreased agricultural/pasture lands reduced TSS in the water column. However, increased urbanization or agricultural/ pasture land coupled with decreased forest land resulted in higher TSS concentrations. Higher sediment loads were usually strongly correlated with higher TSS levels, except in areas where a large extent of wetlands retained sediment discharged during rainfall events. The modeling results indicated improved water clarity in the shallow aquatic regions of Mississippi Sound and degraded water clarity in the Wolf Bay estuary. This integrated modeling approach will provide new knowledge and tools for coastal resource managers to manage shallow aquatic habitats that provide critical ecosystem services.