The impact of channel deepening and sea-level rise on the environmental integrity of an estuary is investigated using a three-dimensional hydrodynamic-eutrophication model. The model results show that dissolved oxygen (DO) only experienced minor changes, even when the deep channel was deepened by 3 m in the mesohaline and polyhaline regions of the James River. We found that vertical stratification decreased DO aeration while the estuarine gravitational circulation increased bottom DO exchange. The interactions between these two processes play an important role in modulating DO. The minor change in DO due to channel deepening indicates that the James River is unique as compared with other estuaries. To understand the impact of the hydrodynamic changes on DO, both vertical and horizontal transport timescales represented by water age were used to quantify the changes in hydrodynamic conditions and DO variation, in addition to traditional measures of stratification and circulation. The model results showed that channel deepening led to an increase in both gravitational circulation strength and vertical stratification. Saltwater age decreased and vertical exchange time increased with increases in channel depth. However, these two physical processes can compensate each other, resulting in minor changes in DO. A comparison of the impact of a sea-level rise of 1.0 m with channel deepening scenarios was conducted. As the sea level rises, the vertical transport time decreases slightly while the strength of gravitational circulation weakens due to an increase in mean water depth. Consequently, DO in the estuary experiences a moderate decrease.
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