K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea
A “virtual field trip” down the estuaries of the Cape Fear River from zero salinity to the ocean, with discussion of how local ecology changes along the way.
Format: slideshow (multiple pages)
What makes an estuary?
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 2
Estuaries are defined as semi-enclosed bodies of water with intermediate salinities caused by the mixture of fresh and salt waters. That sounds simple enough, but the true qualities of estuaries are found in the interaction between the river and ocean inputs...
By Steve Keith.
A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect
A “virtual field trip” up the White Oak River in southeastern North Carolina, with discussion of how local ecology changes along the way due to decreasing salinity.
Format: slideshow (multiple pages)
Role of barrier islands and their inlet/outlet systems
In Coastal processes and conflicts: North Carolina's Outer Banks, page 1.9
This lesson is part of chapter one of the unit "Coastal processes and conflicts: North Carolina's Outer Banks." Students take a closer look at the unique environment that estuaries provide for plants and animals.
Format: lesson plan (grade 8–12 Science)
By Stanley R. Riggs, Dorothea Ames, and Karen Dawkins.
How does decreasing salinity affect blackwater rivers?
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 2
All rivers that reach the sea have ocean water at their seaward ends, and freshwater at their sources. A trip up a river takes you along a gradient of salt concentration from near 3.5 percent (the average salinity, or salt content, of seawater) to zero. There...
By Dirk Frankenberg.
Cape Fear estuaries: Introduction
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 1
A quiet afternoon on the dock overlooking the Cape Fear estuary, fishing with friends. A gentle breeze clatters the marsh reeds and sends ripples floating across the water. A vision of stability and tranquility. Unfortunately, this vision is entirely misleading....
By Steve Keith.
Conjunction of the Cape Fear River and the Northeast Cape Fear River
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 4
The town of Wilmington is located at the junction of the Northeast Cape Fear and Cape Fear rivers. In this photo the Cape Fear River is entering from the bottom. The water in the Cape Fear River is just turning salty as it reaches Wilmington, the zero salinity...
By Steve Keith.
Effects of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in North Carolina
 Effects of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd in North Carolina
The two images in the top row of this SeaWiFS timeline show North Carolina's estuaries before either of the two hurricanes came through. The three images in the bottom row show the estuaries after the hurricanes. The two smaller images at the upper left give...
Format: image/photograph
Allen Creek
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 7
Moving south and to the opposite bank of the river, we come across Allen Creek. This side of the river is much less accessible, and wide expanses of marsh and swamp remain. Note the distinct tree line indicating a rather homogeneous change in elevation. In...
By Steve Keith.
Zeke's Island North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve
Part of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve, Zeke's Island has interpreter led field trips which focus on the importance of estuaries to the North Carolina coast.
Format: article/field trip opportunity
North Carolina Aquariums
Visit one of the three North Carolina Aquariums and learn about the "diverse natural and cultural resources associated with North Carolina's ocean, estuaries, rivers, streams, and other aquatic environments."
Format: article/field trip opportunity
Coastal processes and conflicts: North Carolina's Outer Banks
The lessons in this unit allow students to explore the processes affecting North Carolina's Outer Banks and the impact these processes have on daily life there.
Format: lesson plan (multiple pages)
Tidal freshwater section of the White Oak (2)
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 14
Figure 12 shows another part of the tidal freshwater section of the White Oak. Here you can see not only red cedars growing close to the river but also a few pines and maples. The presence of the latter species tells us that the water almost never gets salty...
By Dirk Frankenberg.
Tidal creek
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 9
This photo shows conditions just a few yards away from the shoreline. As you can see from the banks of this tidal creek, the tidal range is at least a foot, and the tide is out. Cord grass dominates the central, depressed, area of this photo, and in the background...
By Steve Keith.
Port of Wilmington
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 5
Moving to the south end of Wilmington we come to the ports. Ports and marinas are hard to avoid in estuaries, but large ports are worth a look. The ships visiting Wilmington's port are oceangoing cargo ships that need deep water to navigate. What does this...
By Steve Keith.
Federal Point Basin
In Cape Fear estuaries: From river to sea, page 10
A few miles south of Snow's Cut, past Fort Fisher and the ferry to Southport, we come to the Federal Point Basin. The basin is part of the Zeke's Island Estuarine Reserve and is a research area for scientists at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher....
By Steve Keith.
White Oak River estuary
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 8
Figure 6 is a view of the high salinity, open water area of the White Oak River estuary about 4 miles inland of the mouth. Salt marsh still occurs on the estuary floor, but it is clearly much less extensive than closer to the ocean and its sources of sediment....
By Dirk Frankenberg.
Salt marsh cord grass & black needle rush plants (2)
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 10
Figure 8 shows a typical zonation of the two salt marsh plants shown first in figure 7. Note that the salt marsh cord grass is close to the water both in the foreground and background. The black needle rush does not appear in the foreground at all, but occupies...
By Dirk Frankenberg.
Tidal freshwater section of the White Oak (1)
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 13
Figure 11 is a view of a marsh about 10 miles upriver from the ocean. Here you see black needle rush along the water's edge along with a new plant, the freshwater sawgrass (cladium jamaicense) growing landward of it. In the background,...
By Dirk Frankenberg.
Red cedar marsh invasion
In A blackwater river from sea to source: The White Oak River transect, page 11
Figure 9 is a view of another tributary creek to the White Oak. Here, about 7 miles from the sea, we find that most of the marsh is dominated by black needle rush, with salt marsh cord grass occurring only in a few light-green patches along the water's edge....
By Dirk Frankenberg.