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  1. Abstract

    The salinity structure in an estuary is controlled by time‐dependent mixing processes. However, the locations and temporal variability of where significant mixing occurs is not well‐understood. Here we utilize a tracer variance approach to demonstrate the spatial and temporal structure of salinity mixing in the Hudson River Estuary. We run a 4‐month hydrodynamic simulation of the tides, currents, and salinity that captures the spring‐neap tidal variability as well as wind‐driven and freshwater flow events. On a spring‐neap time scale, salinity variance dissipation (mixing) occurs predominantly during the transition from neap to spring tides. On a tidal time scale, 60% of the salinity variance dissipation occurs during ebb tides and 40% during flood tides. Spatially, mixing during ebbs occurs primarily where lateral bottom salinity fronts intersect the bed at the transition from the main channel to adjacent shoals. During ebbs, these lateral fronts form seaward of constrictions located at multiple locations along the estuary. During floods, mixing is generated by a shear layer elevated in the water column at the top of the mixed bottom boundary layer, where variations in the along channel density gradients locally enhance the baroclinic pressure gradient leading to stronger vertical shear and more mixing. For both ebb and flood, the mixing occurs at the location of overlap of strong vertical stratification and eddy diffusivity, not at the maximum of either of those quantities. This understanding lends a new insight to the spatial and time dependence of the estuarine salinity structure.

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  2. 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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