, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 262-280

A review of recent developments in estuarine scalar flux estimation

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Abstract

The purpose of this contribution is to review recent developments in calculation of estuarine scalar fluxes, to suggest avenues for future improvement, and to place the idea of flux calculation in a broader physical and biogeochemical context. A scalar flux through an estuarine cross section is the product of normal velocity and scalar concentration, sectionally integrated and tidally averaged. These may vary on interannual, reasonal, tidal monthly, and event time scales. Formulation of scalar fluxes in terms of an integral scalar conservation expression shows that they may be determined either through “direct” means (measurement of velocity and concentration) or by “indirect” inference (from changes in scalar, inventory and source/sink terms). Direct determination of net flux at a cross section has a long and generally discouraging history in estuarine oceanography. It has proven difficult to extract statistically significant net (tidally averaged) fluxes from much larger flood and ebb transports, and the best mathematical representation of flux mechanisms is unclear. Observations further suggest that both lateral and vertical variations in scalar transport through estuarine cross sections are large, while estuarine circulation theory has focused on two-dimensional analyses that treatment either vertical or lateral variations but not both. Indirect estimates of net fluxes by determination of the other relevant terms in an integral scalar conservation balance may be the best means of determining scalar import-export in systems with residence times long relative to periods of tidal monthly fluctuations. But this method offers, little insight into the interaction of circulation modes and scalar fluxes, little help in verifying predictive models, and may also be difficult to apply in some circumstances. Thus, the need to understand, measure, and predict anthropogenic influences on transport or carbon, nutrient, suspended matter, trace metals, and other substances across the land-margin brings a renewed urgency to the issue of how to best carry out estuarine scalar flux determination. An interdisciplinary experiment is suggested to test present understanding, available instrument, and numerical models.

LMER Scalar Transport Working Group