Coral Reefs

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 277–291 | Cite as

Wave and tidal flushing in a near-equatorial mesotidal atoll

  • Mirella B. Costa
  • Eduardo C. Macedo
  • Arnoldo Valle-Levinson
  • Eduardo Siegle


Most of the atolls found worldwide are under microtidal regimes, and their circulation mechanisms are widely documented and well known. Here, we describe the flushing mechanisms of a small-sized mesotidal atoll, based on water-level, wave and current data obtained during two different periods (total of 60 d). Rocas is the only atoll in the South Atlantic Ocean and is built primarily of coralline algae. Two reef passages connect the atoll lagoon to the ocean. Synchronous current profilers were deployed at the two reef passages, one inside and one outside the atoll, to characterize the influence of tides and waves on the circulation. Results showed that wind waves drove a setup on the exposed side of the atoll and that currents were predominately downwind, causing outflow at both reef passages. Waves breaking on the windward side supplied water to the atoll causing the lagoon water level to rise above ocean water level, driving the outflow. However, unlike microtidal atolls, at Rocas Atoll the water level drops significantly below the reef rim during low tides. This causes the reef rim to act as a barrier to water pumping into the lagoon by waves, resulting in periodic activation of the wave pumping mechanism throughout a tidal cycle. As result, inflow occurs in the wider passage during 27% of each tidal cycle, starting at low tides and reversing direction during mid-flood tide when the water level exceeded approximately 1.6 m (while overtopping the atoll’s rim). Our findings show that tides play a direct role in driving circulation on a mesotidal atoll, not only by modulating wave setup but also by determining the duration of wave pumping into the lagoon.


Mesotidal atolls Lagoon circulation Flushing Wave pumping 



This study was funded by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) through the Project “Processos induzidos por ondas e marés no Atol das Rocas: implicações geomorfológicas e projeções futuras” (CNPq 486572/2012-9), through the Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia Ambientes Tropicais Marinhos and by Fundação de Apoio a Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo No. 2011/22661-3. We are very grateful to the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, especially to Maurizélia Brito, the manager of the marine protected area of Rocas Atoll (REBIO Atol das Rocas), who provided all of the necessary support to our expeditions. We are also grateful to colleagues who contributed to the surveys, specifically Jarian Dantas, Anderson Targino, Nathan Pereira, Miguel Loiola and Thiago Albuquerque. We thank Prof. Carlos A. F. Schettini (UFPE) for discussions that contributed to the development of this work. Eduardo Siegle is sponsored by a CNPq research fellowship. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for detailed reviews that improved our manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto OceanográficoUniversidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  2. 2.Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da BiodiversidadeFernando de NoronhaBrazil
  3. 3.Civil and Coastal Engineering DepartmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  4. 4.INCT Ambientes Tropicais MarinhosSalvadorBrazil

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