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Estuarine Adjustment

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  • 1 University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Subtidal adjustment of estuarine salinity and circulation to changing river flow or tidal mixing is explored using a simplified numerical model. The model employs tidally averaged, width-averaged physics, following Hansen and Rattray, extended to include 1) time dependence, 2) tidally averaged mixing parameterizations, and 3) arbitrary variation of channel depth and width. By linearizing the volume-integrated salt budget, the time-dependent system may be distilled to a first-order, forced, damped, ordinary differential equation. From this equation, analytical expressions for the adjustment time and sensitivity of the length of the salt intrusion are developed. For estuaries in which the up-estuary salt flux is dominated by vertically segregated gravitational circulation, this adjustment time is predicted to be TADJ = (1/6)L/u, where L is the length of the salt intrusion and u is the section-averaged velocity (i.e., that due to the river flow). The importance of the adjustment time becomes apparent when considering forcing time scales. Seasonal river-flow variation is much slower than typical adjustment times in systems such as the Hudson River estuary, and thus the response may be quasi steady. Spring–neap mixing variation, in contrast, has a period comparable to typical adjustment times, and so unsteady effects are more important. In this case, the stratification may change greatly while the salt intrusion is relatively unperturbed.

Corresponding author address: Parker MacCready, University of Washington, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98915-5351. Email: parker@ocean.washington.edu

Abstract

Subtidal adjustment of estuarine salinity and circulation to changing river flow or tidal mixing is explored using a simplified numerical model. The model employs tidally averaged, width-averaged physics, following Hansen and Rattray, extended to include 1) time dependence, 2) tidally averaged mixing parameterizations, and 3) arbitrary variation of channel depth and width. By linearizing the volume-integrated salt budget, the time-dependent system may be distilled to a first-order, forced, damped, ordinary differential equation. From this equation, analytical expressions for the adjustment time and sensitivity of the length of the salt intrusion are developed. For estuaries in which the up-estuary salt flux is dominated by vertically segregated gravitational circulation, this adjustment time is predicted to be TADJ = (1/6)L/u, where L is the length of the salt intrusion and u is the section-averaged velocity (i.e., that due to the river flow). The importance of the adjustment time becomes apparent when considering forcing time scales. Seasonal river-flow variation is much slower than typical adjustment times in systems such as the Hudson River estuary, and thus the response may be quasi steady. Spring–neap mixing variation, in contrast, has a period comparable to typical adjustment times, and so unsteady effects are more important. In this case, the stratification may change greatly while the salt intrusion is relatively unperturbed.

Corresponding author address: Parker MacCready, University of Washington, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98915-5351. Email: parker@ocean.washington.edu

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