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  1. Abstract

    The Salish Sea is a large, fjordal estuarine system opening onto the northeast Pacific Ocean. It develops a strong estuarine exchange flow that draws in nutrients from the ocean and flushes the system on timescales of several months. It is difficult to apply existing dynamical theories of estuarine circulation there because of the extreme bathymetric complexity. A realistic numerical model of the system was manipulated to have stronger and weaker tides to explore the sensitivity of the exchange flow to tides. This sensitivity was explored over two timescales: annual means and the spring‐neap. Two theories for the estuarine exchange flow are: (a) “gravitational circulation” where exchange is driven by the baroclinic pressure gradient due to along‐channel salinity variation, and (b) “tidal pumping” where tidal advection combined with flow separation forces the exchange. Past observations suggested gravitational circulation was of leading importance in the Salish Sea. We find here that the exchange flow increases with stronger tides, particularly in annual averages, suggesting it is controlled by tidal pumping. However, the landward salt transport due to the exchange flow decreases with stronger tides because greater mixing decreases the salinity difference between incoming and outgoing water. These results may be characteristic of estuarine systems that have rough topography and strong tides.

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  2. Abstract Curvature can create secondary circulation and flow separation in tidal channels, and both have important consequences for the along-channel momentum budget. The North River is a sinuous estuary where drag is observed to be higher than expected, and a numerical model is used to investigate the influence of curvature-induced processes on the momentum distribution and drag. The hydrodynamic drag is greatly increased in channel bends compared to that for straight channel flows. Drag coefficients are calculated using several approaches to identify the different factors contributing to the drag increase. Flow separation creates low-pressure recirculation zones on the lee side of the bends and results in form drag. Form drag is the dominant source of the increase in total drag during flood tides and is less of a factor during ebb tides. During both floods and ebbs, curvature-induced secondary circulation transports higher-momentum fluid to the lower water column through vertical and lateral advection. Consequently, the streamwise velocity profile deviates from the classic log profile and vertical shear becomes more concentrated near the bed. This redistribution by the lateral circulation causes an overall increase in bottom friction and contributes to the increased drag. Additionally, spatial variations in the depth-averaged velocity field due to the curvature-induced flow are nonlinearly correlated with the bathymetric structure, leading to increased bottom friction. In addition to affecting the tidal flow, the redistributed momentum and altered bottom shear stress have clear implications for channel morphodynamics. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Observations from a tidal estuary show that tidal intrusion fronts occur regularly during flood tides near topographic features including constrictions and bends. A realistic model is used to study the generation of these fronts and their influence on stratification and mixing in the estuary. At the constriction, flow separation occurs on both sides of the jet flow downstream of the narrow opening, leading to sharp lateral salinity gradients and baroclinic secondary circulation. A tidal intrusion front, with a V-shaped convergence zone on the surface, is generated by the interaction between secondary circulation and the jet flow. Stratification is created at the front due to the straining of lateral salinity gradients by secondary circulation. Though stratification is expected to suppress turbulence, strong turbulent mixing is found near the surface front. The intense mixing is attributed to enhanced vertical shear due to both frontal baroclinicity and the twisting of lateral shear by secondary circulation. In the bend, flow separation occurs along the inner bank, resulting in lateral salinity gradients, secondary circulation, frontogenesis, and enhanced mixing near the front. In contrast to the V-shaped front at the constriction, an oblique linear surface convergence front occurs in the bend, which resembles a one-sided tidal intrusion front. Moreover, in addition to baroclinicity, channel curvature also affects secondary circulation, frontogenesis, and mixing in the bend. Overall in the estuary, the near-surface mixing associated with tidal intrusion fronts during flood tides is similar in magnitude to bottom boundary layer mixing that occurs primarily during ebbs.

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  4. Abstract

    The salinity distribution of an estuary depends on the balance between the river outflow, which is seaward, and a dispersive salt flux, which is landward. The dispersive salt flux at a fixed cross‐section can be divided into shear dispersion, which is caused by spatial correlations of the cross‐sectionally varying velocity and salinity, and the tidal oscillatory salt flux, which results from the tidal correlation between the cross‐section averaged, tidally varying components of velocity and salinity. The theoretical moving plane analysis of Dronkers and van de Kreeke (1986) indicates that the oscillatory salt flux is exactly equal to the difference between the “local” shear dispersion at a fixed location and the shear dispersion which occurred elsewhere within a tidal excursion; therefore, they refer to the oscillatory salt flux as “nonlocal” dispersion. We apply their moving plane analysis to a numerical model of a short, tidally dominated estuary and provide the first quantitative confirmation of the theoretical result that the spatiotemporal variability of shear dispersion accounts for the oscillatory salt flux. Shear dispersion is localized in space and time due to the tidal variation of currents and the position of the along‐channel salinity distribution with respect to topographic features. We find that dispersion near the mouth contributes strongly to the salt balance, especially under strong river and tidal forcing. Additionally, while vertical shear dispersion produces the majority of dispersive salt flux during neap tide and high flow, lateral mechanisms provide the dominant mode of dispersion during spring tide and low flow.

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  5. Abstract. In late summer 2019 and 2020 bottom waters in southern Cape Cod Bay (CCB) became depleted of dissolved oxygen (DO), with documented benthicmortality in both years. Hypoxic conditions formed in relatively shallow water where the strong seasonal thermocline intersected the sea floor, bothlimiting vertical mixing and concentrating biological oxygen demand (BOD) over a very thin bottom boundary layer. In both 2019 and 2020, anomalouslyhigh sub-surface phytoplankton blooms were observed, and the biomass from these blooms provided the fuel to deplete sub-pycnocline waters of DO. Theincreased chlorophyll fluorescence was accompanied by a corresponding decrease in sub-pycnocline nutrients, suggesting that prior to 2019 physicalconditions were unfavorable for the utilization of these deep nutrients by the late-summer phytoplankton community. It is hypothesized thatsignificant alteration of physical conditions in CCB during late summer, which is the result of regional climate change, has favored the recentincrease in sub-surface phytoplankton production. These changes include rapidly warming waters and significant shifts in summer wind direction, bothof which impact the intensity and vertical distribution of thermal stratification and vertical mixing within the water column. These changes inwater column structure are not only more susceptible to hypoxia but also have significant implications for phytoplankton dynamics, potentiallyallowing for intense late-summer blooms of Karenia mikimotoi, a species new to the area. K. mikimotoi had not been detected in CCBor adjacent waters prior to 2017; however, increasing cell densities have been reported in subsequent years, consistent with a rapidly changingecosystem. 
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  6. Abstract

    The North River estuary (Massachusetts, USA) is a tidal marsh creek network where tidal dispersion processes dominate the salt balance. A field study using moorings, shipboard measurements, and drone surveys was conducted to characterize and quantify tidal trapping due to tributary creeks. During flood tide, saltwater propagates up the main channel and gets “trapped” in the creeks. The creeks inherit an axial salinity gradient from the time-varying salinity at their boundary with the main channel, but it is stronger than the salinity gradient of the main channel because of relatively weaker currents. The stronger salinity gradient drives a baroclinic circulation that stratifies the creeks, while the main channel remains well-mixed. Because of the creeks’ shorter geometries, tidal currents in the creeks lead those in the main channel; therefore, the creeks never fill with the saltiest water which passes the main channel junction. This velocity phase difference is enhanced by the exchange flow in the creeks, which fast-tracks the fresher surface layer in the creeks back to the main channel. Through ebb tide, the relatively fresh creek outflows introduce a negative salinity anomaly into the main channel, where it is advected downstream by the tide. Using high-resolution measurements, we empirically determine the salinity anomaly in the main channel resulting from its exchange with the creeks to calculate a dispersion rate due to trapping. Our dispersion rate is larger than theoretical estimates that neglect the exchange flow in the creeks. Trapping contributes more than half the landward salt flux in this region.

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  7. Abstract

    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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