Two-dimensional circulation and mixing in the far field of a surface-advected river plume

Piero L.F. Mazzini, Robert J. Chant

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7 Scopus citations


Field observations of the Hudson River plume are presented to discuss circulation and mixing in the far field of this coastally trapped buoyant flow. The plume was surface advected and propagated downshelf near the internal wave speed. The plume outflow was characterized by a two-layer bulge-like feature but became continuously stratified and vertically sheared in the far field, where Richardson numbers are generally below 0.5. High-frequency velocity and backscatter data from a moored ADCP revealed strong vertical and horizontal oscillatory motions at the front with a wavelength approximately 7–8 times the plume thickness, consistent with Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities. These motions quickly died out after 2–3 cycles. The combination of vertical shear and stratification in the plume leads to a buoyancy flux toward the nose of the plume, which competes with mixing. However, the continued salinity increase of the plume as it propagated downshelf indicates that mixing overcomes this delivery of freshwater to the plume front. A simple 2-D model is developed, which relates the time rate-of-change of the plume salinity to: (1) salt entrainment due to vertical mixing, and (2) freshwater flux and salt removal due to the vertical shear of the stratified plume. Estimates of an entrainment coefficient from this model are consistent with previous estimates from the near field of a river outflow. A scaling of the plume width is obtained by assuming that vertical shears are controlled by both thermal wind and a critical Richardson number. This scaling yields plume widths that are consistent with previous laboratory studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3757-3776
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


  • coastal currents
  • river plumes

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