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Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5130

Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service

Modeling Flood Plain Hydrology and Forest Productivity of Congaree Swamp, South Carolina

By Thomas W. Doyle


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An ecological field and modeling study was conducted to examine the flood relations of backswamp forests and park trails of the flood plain portion of Congaree National Park, S.C. Continuous water level gages were distributed across the length and width of the flood plain portion—referred to as “Congaree Swamp”—to facilitate understanding of the lag and peak flood coupling with stage of the Congaree River. A severe and prolonged drought at study start in 2001 extended into late 2002 before backswamp zones circulated floodwaters. Water levels were monitored at 10 gaging stations over a 4-year period from 2002 to 2006. Historical water level stage and discharge data from the Congaree River were digitized from published sources and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) archives to obtain long-term daily averages for an upstream gage at Columbia, S.C., dating back to 1892. Elevation of ground surface was surveyed for all park trails, water level gages, and additional circuits of roads and boundaries. Rectified elevation data were interpolated into a digital elevation model of the park trail system. Regression models were applied to establish time lags and stage relations between gages at Columbia, S.C., and gages in the upper, middle, and lower reaches of the river and backswamp within the park. Flood relations among backswamp gages exhibited different retention and recession behavior between flood plain reaches with greater hydroperiod in the lower reach than those in the upper and middle reaches of the Congaree Swamp. A flood plain inundation model was developed from gage relations to predict critical river stages and potential inundation of hiking trails on a real-time basis and to forecast the 24-hour flood

In addition, tree-ring analysis was used to evaluate the effects of flood events and flooding history on forest resources at Congaree National Park. Tree cores were collected from populations of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), green ash (Fraxinus pennslyvanica), laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia), swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii), and sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) within Congaree Swamp in highand low-elevation sites characteristic of shorter and longer flood duration and related to upriver flood controls and dam operation. Ring counts and dating indicated that all loblolly pine trees and nearly all baldcypress collections in this study are postsettlement recruits and old-growth cohorts, dating from 100 to 300 years in age. Most hardwood species and trees cored for age analysis were less than 100 years old, demonstrating robust growth and high site quality. Growth chronologies of loblolly pine and baldcypress exhibited positive and negative inflections over the last century that corresponded with climate history and residual effects of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Stemwood production on average was less for trees and species on sites with longer flood retention and hydroperiod affected more by groundwater seepage and site elevation than river floods. Water level data provided evidence that stream regulation and operations of the Saluda Dam (post-1934) have actually increased the average daily water stage in the Congaree River. There was no difference in tree growth response by species or hydrogeomorphic setting to predam and postdam flood conditions and river stage. Climate-growth analysis showed that long-term growth variation is controlled more by spring/ summer temperatures in loblolly pine and by spring/summer precipitation in baldcypress than flooding history.

First posted July 24, 2009

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Suggested citation:

Doyle, T.W., 2009, Modeling flood plain hydrology and forest productivity of Congaree Swamp, South Carolina: U.S.
Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5130, 46 p.




Coastal Plain Forest Ecosystems

Productivity Studies of Coastal Plain Forests

Environmental Setting

Congaree Swamp

Saluda Dam




Palmer Drought Severity Index


Purpose and Scope


Water Level Monitoring

Tree Core Collections and Measurement

Growth Calculations and Analysis


Hydrological and Trail Elevation Surveys

Flood Plain Inundation Model

Tree-Ring Analysis

Forest Age and History

Loblolly Pine Chronology Development and Productivity

Loblolly Pine Climate-Growth Relations

Baldcypress Chronology Development and Productivity

Baldcypress Climate-Growth Relations

Saluda Dam Effects on River Stage and Tree Growth




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