Chemistry in an Estuary

Estuary background image with color overlay


In this activity, students investigate water quality parameters to study the nature of, and the cyclical changes inherent in, the chemistry of estuarine water. Students study key water quality factors at several stations in a single reserve over time—including current, daily, and yearly time scales. Students also compare water quality values over a yearly time scale in three different estuaries within NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System—South Slough (Oregon), Delaware, and Old Woman Creek (Ohio). Then students take water quality measurements at a local site and compare these measurements with those in the three geographically diverse research reserve estuarine environments.

This activity has five parts:

  1. What Is an Estuary?
  2. Investigating Water Quality in an Estuary
  3. Investigating Water Quality over a Day
  4. Investigating Water Quality over a Year
  5. Comparing Water Quality Data between Two Different Estuarine Environments

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Students should understand that:

  • Describe how different chemical and physical properties affect and interact within an estuarine environment.
  • Explain how analyzing chemical and physical water quality data can lead to an understanding of estuary dynamics.

Chemistry in an Estuary: Supporting Resources

The NERRS System-wide Monitoring Program


What is an Estuary


Map: Google Earth


Google Earth is a virtual globe web site that lets people fly around Earth, zooming in for details or zooming out for a broad perspective. Google Earth uses satellite imagery, aerial photography and a 3D globe, putting the world’s geographic information at your fingertips. With Google Earth, you can:

  • Fly to any location. Just type in an address, press Search, and you will zoom right in.
  • Search different types of terrain and study geologic and estuary features from any altitude.
  • Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain.
  • Save your searches and image data for future use.

Google Earth is a powerful tool for exploring your world. In your study of estuaries, it can be used to reveal the relationships among landforms, water features, towns, cities, and the habitats of the animals and plants that live in estuaries.

Finding NERRS Estuaries

A map of the United States has been marked with the location of all National Estuarine Research Reserves. To find one nearest your location, open up the Reserves.kmz/Google Earth program. Make sure that terrain and geographic features are checked under Layers. Look for circles or pins that indicate the location of NERRS sites. Double click on one that interests you. You can then zoom in and investigate the reserve you have chosen.