The formation of turbidity maximum zones by minor axis tidal straining in regions of freshwater influence

Raúl P. Flores*, Sabine Rijnsburger, Alexander R. Horner-Devine, Nirnimesh Kumar, Alejandro J. Souza, Julie D. Pietrzak

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


This study investigates the influence of tidal straining in the generation of turbidity maximum zones (TMZ), which are observed to extend for tens of kilometers along some shallow, open coastal seas. Idealized numerical simulations are conducted to reproduce the cross-shore dynamics and tidal straining in regions of freshwater influence (ROFIs), where elliptical current patterns are generated by the interaction between stratification and a tidal Kelvin wave. Model results show that tidal straining leads to cross-shore sediment convergence and the formation of a nearshore TMZ that is detached from the coastline. The subtidal landward sediment fluxes are created by asymmetries in vertical mixing between the stratifying and destratifying phases of the tidal cycle. This process is similar to the tidal straining mechanism that is observed in estuaries, except that in this case the convergence zone and TMZ are parallel to the shoreline and perpendicular to both the direction of the freshwater flux and the major axis of the tidal flow. We introduce the term minor axis tidal straining (MITS) to describe the tidal straining in these systems and to differentiate it from the tidal straining that occurs when the major axis of the tidal ellipse is aligned with the density gradient. The occurrence of tidal straining and the coastal TMZ is predicted in terms of the Simpson (Si) and Stokes (Stk) numbers, and top–bottom tidal ellipticity difference (∆ε). Based on our results, we find that SiStk2 > 3 and ∆ε > 0.5 provide a limiting condition for the required density gradients and latitudes for the occurrence of MITS and the generation of a TMZ.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1265-1287
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Baroclinic flows
  • Turbulence
  • Transport
  • Ocean dynamics
  • Coastal flows
  • Buoyancy


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