Transverse structure of tidal flow, residual flow and sediment concentration in estuaries: sensitivity to tidal forcing and water depth

K.M.H. Huijts, H.E. de Swart, G.P. Schramkowski, H.M. Schuttelaars

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An analytical and a numerical model are used to understand the response of velocity and sediment distributions over Gaussian-shaped estuarine cross-sections to changes in tidal forcing and water depth. The estuaries considered here are characterized by strong mixing and a relatively weak along-channel density gradient. It is also examined under what conditions the fast, two-dimensional analytical flow model yields results that agree with those obtained with the more complex three-dimensional numerical model. The analytical model reproduces and explains the main velocity and sediment characteristics in large parts of the parameter space considered (average tidal velocity amplitude, 0.1-1 m s - 1 and maximum water depth, 10-60 m). Its skills are lower for along-channel residual flows if nonlinearities are moderate to high (strong tides in deep estuaries) and for transverse flows and residual sediment concentrations if the Ekman number is small (weak tides in deep estuaries). An important new aspect of the analytical model is the incorporation of tidal variations in the across-channel density gradient, causing a double circulation pattern in the transverse flow during slack tides. The gradient also leads to a new tidally rectified residual flow component via net advection of along-channel tidal momentum by the density-induced transverse tidal flow. The component features landward currents in the channel and seaward currents over the slopes and is particularly effective in deeper water. It acts jointly with components induced by horizontal density differences, Coriolis-induced tidal rectification and Stokes discharge, resulting in different along-channel residual flow regimes. The residual across-channel density gradient is crucial for the residual transverse circulation and for the residual sediment concentration. The clockwise density-induced circulation traps sediment in the fresher water over the left slope (looking up-estuary in the northern hemisphere). Model results are largely consistent with available field data of well-mixed estuaries.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1067-1091
Number of pages25
JournalOcean Dynamics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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