- The temporal response of the length of a partially mixed estuary to changes in freshwater discharge Q𝒻 and
tidal amplitude Uₜ is studied using a 108-day time series collected along the length of the Hudson River
estuary in the spring and summer of 2004 and a long-term (13.4 yr) record of Q𝒻, Uₜ, and near-surface salinity.
When Q𝒻 was moderately high, the tidally averaged length of the estuary L₅, here defined as the distance from
the mouth to the up-estuary location where the vertically averaged salinity is 5 psu, fluctuated by more than
47 km over the spring–neap cycle, ranging from 28 to .75 km. During low flow periods, L₅ varied very little
over the spring–neap cycle and approached a steady length. The response is quantified and compared to
predictions of a linearized model derived from the global estuarine salt balance. The model is forced by
fluctuations in Q𝒻 and Uₜ relative to average discharge Qₒ and tidal amplitude Uₜₒ and predicts the linear
response time scale τ and the steady-state length Lₒ for average forcing. Two vertical mixing schemes are
considered, in which 1) mixing is proportional to Uₜ and 2) dependence of mixing on stratification is also
parameterized. Based on least squares fits between L₅ and estuary length predicted by the model, estimated
τ varied by an order of magnitude from a period of high average discharge (Qₒ = 750 m³ s⁻¹, τ = 4.2
days) to a period of low discharge (Qₒ = 170 m³ s⁻¹, τ = 40.4 days). Over the range of observed discharge,
Lₒ } Qₒ⁻⁰.³⁰±⁰.⁰³, consistent with the theoretical scaling for an estuary whose landward salt flux is driven by
vertical estuarine exchange circulation. Estimated t was proportional to the discharge advection time scale
(LₒA/Qₒ, where A is the cross-sectional area of the estuary). However, τ was 3–4 times larger than the
theoretical prediction. The model with stratification-dependent mixing predicted variations in L₅ with higher
skill than the model with mixing proportional to Uₜ. This model provides insight into the time-dependent
response of a partially stratified estuary to changes in forcing and explains the strong dependence of the
amplitude of the spring–neap response on freshwater discharge. However, the utility of the linear model is
limited because it assumes a uniform channel, and because the underlying dynamics are nonlinear, and the
forcing Q𝒻 and Uₜ can undergo large amplitude variations. River discharge, in particular, can vary by over an
order of magnitude over time scales comparable to or shorter than the response time scale of the estuary.
- Lerczak, James A., W. Rockwell Geyer, David K. Ralston, 2009: The Temporal Response of the Length of a Partially Stratified Estuary to Changes in River Flow and Tidal Amplitude. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 39, 915–933.
|Funding Statement (additional comments about funding)
- This study was generously fundedby Hudson River Foundation Grant 005/03A andNSF Grant OCE-0452054. Lerczak also received partial support from the Woods Hole Center for Oceans andHuman Health, NSF Grant OCE-0430724 and NIEHSGrant 1-P50-ES012742-01.
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