Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 46–52 | Cite as

Dispersal forcing of southern California river plumes, based on field and remote sensing observations

  • Jonathan A. Warrick
  • Leal A. K. Mertes
  • Libe Washburn
  • David A. Siegel


River plumes are important pathways of terrestrial materials entering the sea. In southern California, rivers are known to be the dominant source of littoral, shelf and basin sediment and coastal pollution, although a basic understanding of the dynamics of these river inputs does not exist. Here we evaluate forcing parameters of a southern California river plume using ship-based hydrographic surveys and satellite remote sensing measurements to provide the first insights of river dispersal dynamics in southern California. Our results suggest that plumes of the Santa Clara River are strongly influenced by river inertia, producing jet-like structures ~10 km offshore during annual recurrence (~two-year) flood events and ~30 km during exceptional (~10-year recurrence) floods. Upwelling-favorable winds may be strong following stormwater events and can alter dispersal pathways of these plumes. Due to similar runoff relationships and other reported satellite observations, we hypothesize that interia-dominated dispersal may be an important characteristic of the small, mountainous rivers throughout southern California.


Wind Stress River Mouth Froude Number River Plume Southern California Bight 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper was improved from comments of Richard Garvine and an anonymous reviewer. Funding provided by the NASA Earth System Science Fellowship program, NOAA support of the UCSB Plumes and Blooms research group, and NSF Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) funding for the Santa Barbara Channel LTER. We are also grateful for the assistance and support of the NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary for cooperation and use of the R/V Ballena. Further assistance was provided by John Milliman, Ceretha MacKenzie, Jeanne-Marie Hermann, Mark Otero, Jens Sorensen, Michael Neumann, Dede Toole, Karen Patterson, Scott Valentine, and Olga Polykov.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan A. Warrick
    • 1
    • 3
  • Leal A. K. Mertes
    • 2
  • Libe Washburn
    • 2
  • David A. Siegel
    • 2
  1. 1.Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Marine Science and Institute for Computational Earth System ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Computational Earth System Science and Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Coastal and Marine GeologyUS Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

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