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Title: Mechanisms of Exchange Flow in an Estuary With a Narrow, Deep Channel and Wide, Shallow Shoals

Delaware Bay is a large estuary with a deep, relatively narrow channel and wide, shallow banks, providing a clear example of a “channel‐shoal” estuary. This numerical modeling study addresses the exchange flow in this channel‐shoal estuary, specifically to examine how the lateral geometry affects the strength and mechanisms of exchange flow. We find that the exchange flow is exclusively confined to the channel region during spring tides, when stratification is weak, and it broadens laterally over the shoals during the more stratified neap tides but still occupies a small fraction of the total width of the estuary. Exchange flow is relatively weak during spring tides, resulting from oscillatory shear dispersion in the channel augmented by weak Eulerian exchange flow. During neap tides, stratification and shear increase markedly, resulting in a strong Eulerian residual shear flow driven mainly by the along‐estuary density gradient, with a net exchange flow roughly 5 times that of the spring tide. During both spring and neap tides, lateral salinity gradients generated by differential advection at the edge of the channel drive a tidally oscillating cross‐channel flow, which strongly influences the stratification, along‐estuary salt balance, and momentum balance. The lateral flow also causes the phase variation in salinity that results in oscillatory shear dispersion and is an advective momentum source contributing to the residual circulation. Whereas the shoals make a negligible direct contribution to the exchange flow, they have an indirect influence due to the salinity gradients between the channel and the shoal.

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DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
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Journal Name:
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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