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Seasonal Variability and Estuary-Shelf Interactions in Circulation Dynamics of a River-dominated Estuary

TitleSeasonal Variability and Estuary-Shelf Interactions in Circulation Dynamics of a River-dominated Estuary
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsChawla A, Jay DA, Baptista AM, Wilkin M, Seaton C
Journal TitleEstuaries and Coasts
KeywordsColumbia River, dynamics, estuary, interaction, seasonal variation, stream

The long-term response of circulation processes to external forcing has been quantified for the Columbia River estuary using in situ data from an existing coastal observatory. Circulation patterns were determined from four Acoustic Doppler Profilers (ADP) and several conductivity-temperature sensors placed in the two main channels. Because of the very strong river discharge, baroclinic processes play a crucial role in the circulation dynamics, and the interaction of the tidal and subtidal baroclinic pressure gradients plays a major role in structuring the velocity field. The input of river flow and the resulting low-frequency flow dynamics in the two channels are quite distinct. Current and salinity data were analyzed on two time scales-subtidal (or residual) and tidal (both diurnal and semidiurnal components). The residual currents in both channels usually showed a classical two-layer baroclinic circulation system with inflow at the bottom and outflow near the surface. However, this two-layer system is transient and breaks down under strong discharge and tidal conditions because of enhanced vertical mixing. Influence of shelf winds on estuarine processes was also observed via the interactions with upwelling and downwelling processes and coastal plume transport. The transient nature of residual inflow affects the long-term transport characteristics of the estuary. Effects of vertical mixing could also be seen at the tidal time scale. Tidal velocities were separated into their diurnal and semidiurnal components using continuous wavelet transforms to account for the nonstationary nature of velocity amplitudes. The vertical structure of velocity amplitudes were considerably altered by baroclinic gradients. This was particularly true for the diurnal components, where tidal asymmetry led to stronger tidal velocities near the bottom.