A unifying approach to subtidal salt intrusion modeling in tidal estuaries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


The salinity structure in estuaries is classically described in terms of the salinity structure as well mixed, partially mixed, or salt wedge. The existing knowledge about the processes that result in such salinity structures comes from highly idealized models that are restricted to either well-mixed and partially mixed cases or subtidal salt wedge estuaries. Hence, there is still little knowledge about the processes driving transitions between these different salinity structures and the estuarine parameters at which such a transition is found. As an important step toward a unified description of the dominant processes driving well-mixed, partially mixed, and salt wedge estuaries, a subtidal width-averaged model applicable to all these salinity structures is developed and systematically analyzed. Using our model, we identify four salinity regimes, resulting from different balances of dominant processes. It is shown that each regime is uniquely determined by two dimensionless parameters: an estuarine Froude and Rayleigh number, representing freshwater discharge and tidal mixing, respectively, resulting in a classification of the regimes in terms of these two parameters. Furthermore, analytical expressions to approximate the salt intrusion length in each regime are developed. These expressions are used to illustrate that the salt intrusion length in different regimes responds in a highly different manner to changes in depth and freshwater discharge. As one of the key results, we show that there are only very weak relations between the process-based regime of an estuary and the salt intrusion length and top-bottom stratification. This implies that the salinity structure of an estuary cannot be uniquely matched to a regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-167
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Baroclinic flows
  • Classification
  • Differential equations
  • Estuaries
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Salinity


Dive into the research topics of 'A unifying approach to subtidal salt intrusion modeling in tidal estuaries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this