Unraveling interactions between asymmetric tidal turbulence, residual circulation, and salinity dynamics in short, periodically weakly stratified estuaries

Xiaoyan Wei, Henk M. Schuttelaars, Megan E. Williams, Jennifer M. Brown, Peter D. Thorne, Laurent O. Amoudry

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Abstract

Asymmetric tidal turbulence (ATT) strongly influences estuarine health and functioning. However, its impact on the three-dimensional estuarine dynamics and the feedback of water motion and salinity distribution on ATT remain poorly understood, especially for short estuaries (estuarine length ≪ tidal wavelength). This study systematically investigates the abovementioned interactions in a short estuary for the first time, considering periodically weakly stratified conditions. This is done by developing a three-dimensional semi-analytical model (combining perturbation method with finite element method) that allows a dissection of the contributions of different processes to ATT, estuarine circulation, and salt transport. The generation of ATT is dominated by (i) strain-induced periodic stratification and (ii) asymmetric bottomshear-generated turbulence, and their contributions to ATT are different both in amplitude and phase. The magnitude of the residual circulation related to ATT and the eddy viscosity–shear covariance (ESCO) is about half of that of the gravitational circulation (GC) and shows a ‘‘reversed’’ pattern as compared to GC. ATT generated by strain-induced periodic stratification contributes to an ESCO circulation with a spatial structure similar to GC. This circulation reduces the longitudinal salinity gradients and thus weakens GC. Contrastingly, the ESCO circulation due to asymmetric bottom-sheargenerated turbulence shows patterns opposite to GC and acts to enhance GC. Concerning the salinity dynamics at steady state, GC and tidal pumping are equally important to salt import, whereas ESCO circulation yields a significant seaward salt transport. These findings highlight the importance of identifying the sources of ATT to understand its impact on estuarine circulation and salt distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1416
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Volume51
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Baroclinic flows
  • Estuaries
  • Mass fluxes/transport
  • Salinity
  • Turbulence

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