The influence of mouth status on pH variability in small temporarily closed estuaries


  • pH in TCEs are highly variable, but can be influenced by morphology and mouth state.
  • Non-perched estuary when open – pH variability is influenced by mixing.
  • Perched system when open – in situ biological processes dominate pH patterns.
  • Closed state in all systems – in situ biological processes dominate pH dynamics.
  • Mixing through tidal flushing, biological processes through longer residence time.


Land-based nutrient enrichment of estuarine waters is emerging as a major factor influencing pH and has been referred to as “the other eutrophication problem”. Small temporarily closed estuaries with high residence times are likely to be especially prone to these impacts. This study investigated changes in pH during the open and closed phases in four small temporarily closed estuaries in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The relationship be-tween pH and mouth state was investigated in each estuary (6-16 surveys), based on conceptual relationships derived from the literature. The results indicated that pH is highly variable and influenced by estuary morphology and mouth condition. In a non-perched system, physical mixing due to strong tidal fluctuations influenced pH when the estuary was open; however, in perched estuaries in situ biological processes were more important. In all estuaries during the closed phase, either primary production and/or remineralisation emerged as the dominant influencing factor attributed to longer residence times. Thus trends in pH were evident based on mouth state (i.e. open or closed) and the degree to which these systems were perched, however, further research is needed to understand the complexity of pH variability including the impact and mitigation of anthropogenic change.

Omarjee A., Taljaard S., Weerts S. P. & Adams J. B., 2020. The influence of mouth status on pH variability in small temporarily closed estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 246: 107043. doi: 10.1016/j.ecss.2020.107043. Article (subscription required).

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