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The Influence of Wind Forcing on the Chesapeake Bay Buoyant Coastal Current

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  • 1 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California, Davis, Davis, California
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Abstract

Observations of the buoyant coastal current that flows southward from Chesapeake Bay are used to describe how the thickness, width, and propagation speed vary in response to changes in the along-shelf wind stress. Three basic regimes were observed depending on the strength of the wind. For weak wind stresses (from −0.02 to 0.02 Pa), the buoyant coastal current was relatively thin, the front slope was not steep, and the width was variable (1–20 km). For moderate downwelling (southward) wind stresses (0.02–0.07 Pa), wind-driven cross-shelf advection steepened the front, causing the plume to narrow and thicken. For stronger downwelling wind stresses (greater than 0.07 Pa), vertical mixing dominated, bulk Richardson numbers were approximately 0.25, isopycnals were nearly vertical, and the plume front widened but the plume width did not change. Plume thickness and width were normalized by the theoretical plume scales in the absence of wind forcing. Normalized plume thickness increased linearly from 1 to 2 as downwelling wind stresses increased from 0 to 0.2 Pa. Normalized plume widths were approximately 1 for downwelling wind stresses from 0.02 to 0.2 Pa. The observed along-shelf propagation speed of the plume was roughly equal to the sum of the theoretical propagation speed and the wind-driven along-shelf flow.

* Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California Contribution Number 2268

Corresponding author address: Steven J. Lentz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MS 21, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: slentz@whoi.edu

Abstract

Observations of the buoyant coastal current that flows southward from Chesapeake Bay are used to describe how the thickness, width, and propagation speed vary in response to changes in the along-shelf wind stress. Three basic regimes were observed depending on the strength of the wind. For weak wind stresses (from −0.02 to 0.02 Pa), the buoyant coastal current was relatively thin, the front slope was not steep, and the width was variable (1–20 km). For moderate downwelling (southward) wind stresses (0.02–0.07 Pa), wind-driven cross-shelf advection steepened the front, causing the plume to narrow and thicken. For stronger downwelling wind stresses (greater than 0.07 Pa), vertical mixing dominated, bulk Richardson numbers were approximately 0.25, isopycnals were nearly vertical, and the plume front widened but the plume width did not change. Plume thickness and width were normalized by the theoretical plume scales in the absence of wind forcing. Normalized plume thickness increased linearly from 1 to 2 as downwelling wind stresses increased from 0 to 0.2 Pa. Normalized plume widths were approximately 1 for downwelling wind stresses from 0.02 to 0.2 Pa. The observed along-shelf propagation speed of the plume was roughly equal to the sum of the theoretical propagation speed and the wind-driven along-shelf flow.

* Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California Contribution Number 2268

Corresponding author address: Steven J. Lentz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MS 21, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: slentz@whoi.edu

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