Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Research Publications: UM-SG-RS-2009-01


Lateral circulation driven by boundary mixing and the associated transport of sediments in idealized partially mixed estuaries.




Chen, SN; Sanford, LP


Continental Shelf Research 29(1):101-118




A three-dimensional, hydrostatic, primitive equation numerical model with modern turbulence closures is used to explore lateral circulation and the associated transport of sediments in idealized, moderately to highly stratified estuaries. The model results suggest that boundary mixing on a sloping bottom can drive a significant amount of lateral circulation. This mechanism has received little attention to date in the estuarine literature. Good agreement with an analytical solution and similar vertical structures of lateral flows to observations from the Hudson River estuary support the importance of the boundary mixing mechanism. Boundary mixing is at least as important as differential advection for the modeled scenarios, when the two mechanisms arc evaluated using the salt balance equation for model runs without rotation. Linearly superposing analytical solutions for lagged boundary mixing lateral flow and Ekman-forced lateral flow yields a good representation of the near-bottom lateral flow from the model with rotation. The 2h lag required for the boundary mixing solution is roughly equal to the vertical diffusion time scale, indicating that lateral flow adjustment depends on development of a bottom mixed layer. Sediment dynamics at cross sections seaward and landward of the salt intrusion are very different. Seaward of the salt intrusion, sediments are eroded in the channel and preferentially deposited on the right slope (looking seaward), mainly due to the combination of high sediment concentration in the channel during flood with strong up-slope transport on that side (tidal pumping). Lateral sediment re-distribution landward of the salt intrusion is negligible due to weak residual lateral circulation.

Maryland Sea Grant Topic(s): 

'Related Research Project(s)' link to details about research projects funded by Maryland Sea Grant that led to this publication. These details may include other impacts and accomplishments resulting from the research.

'Maryland Sea Grant Topic(s)' links to related pages on the Maryland Sea Grant website.