, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 1269-1280

A model study of turbidity maxima in the York River estuary, Virginia

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Abstract

A three-dimensional numerical model is used to investigate the mechanisms that contribute to the formation of the turbidity maxima in the York River, Virginia (U.S.). The model reproduces the basic features in both salinity and total suspended sediments (TSS) fields for three different patterns. Both the prominent estuary turbidity maximum (ETM) and the newly discovered secondary turbidity maximum (STM) are simulated when river discharge is relatively low. At higher river inflow, the two turbidity maxima move closer to each other. During very high river discharge event, only the prominent turbidity maximum is simulated. Diagnostic model studies also suggest that bottom resuspension is an important source of TSS in both the ETM and the STM, and confirm the observed association between the turbidity maxima and the stratification patterns in the York River estuary. The ETM is usually located near the head of salt intrusion and the STM is often associated with a transition zone between upriver well mixed and downriver more stratified water columns. Analysis of the model results from the diagnostic studies indicates that the location of the ETM is well associated with the null point of bottom residual flow. Convergent bottom residual flow, as well as tidal asymmetry, is the most important mechanisms that contribute to the formation of the STM. the STM often exists in a region with landward decrease of bottom residual flow and net landward sediment flux due to tidal asymmetry. The channel depth of this region usually decreases sharply upriver. As channel depth decreases, vertical mixing increases and hence the water column is better mixed landward of the STM.