Mechanisms driving the time-dependent salt flux in a partially stratified estuary

James A. Lerczak, W. Rockwell Geyer, Robert J. Chant

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142 Scopus citations


The subtidal salt balance and the mechanisms driving the downgradient salt flux in the Hudson River estuary are investigated using measurements from a cross-channel mooring array of current meters, temperature and conductivity sensors, and cross-channel and along-estuary shipboard surveys obtained during the spring of 2002. Steady (subtidal) vertical shear dispersion, resulting from the estuarine exchange flow, was the dominant mechanism driving the downgradient salt flux, and varied by over an order of magnitude over the spring-neap cycle, with maximum values during neap tides and minimum values during spring tides. Corresponding longitudinal dispersion rates were as big as 2500 m2 s-1 during neap tides. The salinity intrusion was not in a steady balance during the study period. During spring tides, the oceanward advective salt flux resulting from the net outflow balanced the time rate of change of salt content landward of the study site, and salt was flushed out of the estuary. During neap tides, the landward steady shear dispersion salt flux exceeded the oceanward advective salt flux, and salt entered the estuary. Factor-of-4 variations in the salt content occurred at the spring-neap time scale and at the time scale of variations in the net outflow. On average, the salt flux resulting from tidal correlations between currents and salinity (tidal oscillatory salt flux) was an order of magnitude smaller than that resulting from steady shear dispersion. During neap tides, this flux was minimal (or slightly countergradient) and was due to correlations between tidal currents and vertical excursions of the halocline. During spring tides, the tidal oscillatory salt flux was driven primarily by oscillatory shear dispersion, with an associated longitudinal dispersion rate of about 130 m2 s-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2296-2311
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


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