Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 56, Issue 3–4, pp 284–294 | Cite as

Flow velocity profiles in the Lower Scheldt estuary

  • Johan Christian Winterwerp
  • Zheng Bing Wang
  • Theo van der Kaaij
  • Kristof Verelst
  • Arnout Bijlsma
  • Youri Meersschaut
  • Marc Sas
Original paper


Recent acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP)-measurements in the Scheldt estuary near Antwerp, Belgium, revealed anomalous, i.e. anti-clockwise circulations in a left bend during the major part of the flood period; these circulations were established shortly after the turn of the tide. During ebb, anti-clockwise circulations persisted, as predicted by classical theory. These data were analysed with a 3D and a 1DV-model. The 3D simulations reveal that the anomalous circulations are found when salinity is included in the computations—without salinity “normal” circulations were found. From analytical and 1DV simulations, it is concluded that a longitudinal salinity gradient \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial x}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial x}\) may induce a near-bed maximum in flow velocity reversing the direction of the secondary currents. The 1DV-model was then used to assess the contribution of various processes one by one. It was found that because of a reduction in vertical mixing, the vertical velocity profile is not at equilibrium during the first phase of accelerating tide, further enhancing the effects of \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial x}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial x}\). A small vertical salinity gradient \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial z}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial z}\) appeared to have a very large effect as the crosscurrents of the secondary circulations induced by \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial x}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial x}\) became an order of larger magnitude. However, at the site under consideration, the effects of transverse salinity gradients, generated by differential advection in the river bend, were dominant: adverse directions of the secondary circulations were found even when the vertical velocity profile became more regular with a more or less logarithmic shape, i.e. when the effects of \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial x}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial x}\) and \({\partial S} \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{\partial S} {\partial z}}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {\partial z}\) did not play a dominant role anymore. It is argued that data on the secondary velocity structure, which can be measured easily owing to today’s developments in ADCP equipment, may serve as an indicator for the accuracy at which the salinity field is computed with 3D numerical models. Moreover, the large effect of the salinity structure on the velocity field must have a large impact on the morphological development of estuaries, which should therefore be accounted for in morphological modelling studies.


River bends Secondary currents Gravitational circulation Estuarine morphology 



We would like to thank “Het Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap” (Ministry of the Flemish Community) for financing this study and their approval to publish the results.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Johan Christian Winterwerp
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zheng Bing Wang
    • 2
    • 3
  • Theo van der Kaaij
    • 2
  • Kristof Verelst
    • 4
  • Arnout Bijlsma
    • 2
  • Youri Meersschaut
    • 6
  • Marc Sas
    • 5
  1. 1.Delft University of Technology, Environmental Fluid MechanicsDelftThe Netherlands
  2. 2.WL|Delft HydraulicsDelftThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Delft University of Technology, Hydraulic EngineeringDelftThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Flanders Hydraulics ResearchAntwerpBelgium
  5. 5.IMDCAntwerpBelgium
  6. 6.Flanders Hydraulics LaboratoryAntwerpBelgium

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