Observations in the Navesink River estuary in northern New Jersey demonstrate that buoyancy augments the particle trapping tendencies of flood-dominated systems because these estuaries heighten tidal period asymmetries in stratification. During the long and slow ebb which typifies flood-dominated systems, a positive feedback between tidal straining and weak vertical mixing stratifies the estuary. In contrast, during flood, turbulence generated by the stronger tidal currents augments overstraining of the density field and the water column becomes well mixed. The tidal period asymmetries in stratification have profound effects on the vertical structure and transport of suspended matter. During ebb, weak vertical mixing allows suspended material to settle downward. In contrast, strong turbulence during flood mixes suspended matter into the water column where it is transported up estuary. Furthermore, observations reveal that resuspension events are marked by multiple turbidity spikes, suggestive of multiple, limited layers of erodible material. The transport of the turbid waters is consistent with horizontal advection modified by horizontal dispersion. Periods of enhanced stratification are also marked by relatively low levels of turbidity during the ebb, consistent with more complete settling of suspended material following times of high river discharge. The interplay between buoyancy and tidal asymmetries are further elucidated with a one-dimensional numerical model featuring a turbulent closure scheme and a passively settling tracer. Model results are generally consistent with the field observations, both emphasizing the robust particle trapping tendencies of a stratified flood-dominated estuary. We speculate that enhanced particle trapping following times of high river discharge may have important biological consequences.
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