Impact of shelf valleys on the spread of surface-trapped river plumes

Abstract

Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2021. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 51(1), (2021): 247-266, https://doi.org/10.1175/JPO-D-20-0098.1.This study focuses on mechanisms of shelf valley bathymetry affecting the spread of riverine freshwater in the nearshore region. In the context of Changjiang River, a numerical model is used with different no-tide idealized configurations to simulate development of unforced river plumes over a sloping bottom, with and without a shelf valley off the estuary mouth. All simulated freshwater plumes are surface-trapped with continuously growing bulges near the estuary mouth and narrow coastal currents downstream. The simulations indicate that a shelf valley tends to compress the bulge along the direction of the valley long axis and modify the incident angle of the bulge flow impinging toward the coast, which then affects the strength of the coastal current. The bulge compression results from geostrophic adjustment and isobath-following tendency of the depth-averaged flow in the bulge region. Generally, the resulting change in the direction of the bulge impinging flow enhances down-shelf momentum advection and freshwater delivery into the coastal current. Sensitivity simulations with altered river discharges Q, Coriolis parameter, shelf bottom slope, valley geometry, and ambient stratification show that enhancement of down-shelf freshwater transport in the coastal current, ΔQc, increases with increasing valley depth within the bulge region and decreasing slope Burger number of the ambient shelf. Assuming potential vorticity conservation, a scaling formula of ΔQc/Q is developed, and it agrees well with results of the sensitivity simulations. Mechanisms of valley influences on unforced river plumes revealed here will help future studies of topographic influence on river plumes under more realistic conditions.This work is conducted by Canbo Xiao and Weifeng (Gordon) Zhang during CX’s one-year visit at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in 2018–19. CX was supported by China Scholarship Council

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