Asymmetric Tidal Mixing due to the Horizontal Density Gradient

Ming Li Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge, Maryland

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John Trowbridge Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Rocky Geyer Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Abstract

Stratification and turbulent mixing exhibit a flood–ebb tidal asymmetry in estuaries and continental shelf regions affected by horizontal density gradients. The authors use a large-eddy simulation (LES) model to investigate the penetration of a tidally driven bottom boundary layer into stratified water in the presence of a horizontal density gradient. Turbulence in the bottom boundary layer is driven by bottom stress during flood tides, with low-gradient (Ri) and flux (Rf) Richardson numbers, but by localized shear during ebb tides, with Ri = ¼ and Rf = 0.2 in the upper half of the boundary layer. If the water column is unstratified initially, the LES model reproduces periodic stratification associated with tidal straining. The model results show that the energetics criterion based on the competition between tidal straining and tidal stirring provides a good prediction for the onset of periodic stratification, but the tidally averaged horizontal Richardson number Rix has a threshold value of about 0.2, which is lower than the 3 suggested in a recent study. Although the tidal straining leads to negative buoyancy flux on flood tides, the authors find that for typical values of the horizontal density gradient and tidal currents in estuaries and shelf regions, buoyancy production is much smaller than shear production in generating turbulent kinetic energy.

Corresponding author address: Ming Li, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, P.O. Box 775, Cambridge, MD 21613. Email: mingli@hpl.umces.edu

Abstract

Stratification and turbulent mixing exhibit a flood–ebb tidal asymmetry in estuaries and continental shelf regions affected by horizontal density gradients. The authors use a large-eddy simulation (LES) model to investigate the penetration of a tidally driven bottom boundary layer into stratified water in the presence of a horizontal density gradient. Turbulence in the bottom boundary layer is driven by bottom stress during flood tides, with low-gradient (Ri) and flux (Rf) Richardson numbers, but by localized shear during ebb tides, with Ri = ¼ and Rf = 0.2 in the upper half of the boundary layer. If the water column is unstratified initially, the LES model reproduces periodic stratification associated with tidal straining. The model results show that the energetics criterion based on the competition between tidal straining and tidal stirring provides a good prediction for the onset of periodic stratification, but the tidally averaged horizontal Richardson number Rix has a threshold value of about 0.2, which is lower than the 3 suggested in a recent study. Although the tidal straining leads to negative buoyancy flux on flood tides, the authors find that for typical values of the horizontal density gradient and tidal currents in estuaries and shelf regions, buoyancy production is much smaller than shear production in generating turbulent kinetic energy.

Corresponding author address: Ming Li, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, P.O. Box 775, Cambridge, MD 21613. Email: mingli@hpl.umces.edu

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