Modeling influence of stratification on lateral circulation in a stratified estuary

Peng Cheng, Robert E. Wilson, Robert J. Chant, David C. Fugate, Roger D. Flood

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40 Scopus citations


The dynamics of lateral circulation in the Passaic River estuary is examined in this modeling study. The pattern of lateral circulation varies significantly over a tidal cycle as a result of the temporal variation of stratification induced by tidal straining. During highly stratified ebb tides, the lateral circulation exhibits a vertical two-cell structure. Strong stratification suppresses vertical mixing in the deep channel, whereas the shoal above the halocline remains relatively well mixed. As a result, in the upper layer, the lateral asymmetry of vertical mixing produces denser water on the shoal and fresher water over the thalweg. This density gradient drives a circulation with surface currents directed toward the shoal, and the currents at the base of the pycnocline are directed toward the thalweg. In the lower layer, the lateral circulation tends to reduce the tilting of isopycnals and gradually diminishes at the end of the ebb tide. A lateral baroclinic pressure gradient is a dominant driving force for lateral circulation during stratified ebb tides and is generated by differential diffusion that indicates a lateral asymmetry in vertical mixing. Over the thalweg, vertical mixing is strong during the flood and weak during the ebb. Over the shoal, the tidally periodical stratification shows an opposite cycle of that at the thalweg. Lateral straining tends to enhance stratification during flood tides and vertical diffusion maintains the relatively well-mixed water column over the shoal during the stratified ebb tides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2324-2337
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


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