Frontiers of Earth Science

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 170–190 | Cite as

The effect of wind on the dispersal of a tropical small river plume

  • Junpeng Zhao
  • Wenping GongEmail author
  • Jian Shen
Research Article


Wanquan River is a small river located in Hainan, a tropical island in China. As the third largest river in Hainan, the river plume plays an important role in the regional terrigenous mass transport, coastal circulation, and the coral reef’s ecosystem. Studies have shown that wind forcings significantly influence river plume dynamics. In this study, wind effects on the dispersal of the river plume and freshwater transport were examined numerically using a calibrated, unstructured, finite volume numerical model (FVCOM). Both wind direction and magnitude were determined to influence plume dispersal. Northeasterly (downwelling-favorable) winds drove freshwater down-shelf while southeasterly (onshore) winds drove water up-shelf (in the sense of Kelvin wave propagation), and were confined near the coast. Southwesterly (upwelling-favorable) and north-westerly (offshore) winds transport more freshwater offshore. The transport flux is decomposed into an advection, a vertical shear, and an oscillatory component. The advection flux dominates the freshwater transport in the coastal area and the vertical shear flux is dominant in the offshore area. For the upwelling-favorable wind, the freshwater transport becomes more controlled by the advection transport with an increase in wind stress, due to enhanced vertical mixing. The relative importance of wind forcing and buoyancy force was investigated. It was found that, when the Wedderburn number is larger than one, the plume was dominated by wind forcing, although the importance of wind varies in different parts of the plume. The water column stratification decreased as a whole under the prevailing southwesterly wind, with the exception of the up-shelf and offshore areas.


small river plume wind effect freshwater transport 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



This study is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 40976052). This research is supported in part by Special Program for Applied Research on Super Computation of the NSFC-Guangdong Joint Fund (the second phase). The authors would like to acknowledge Mr. Mac Sisson of Virginia Institute of Marine Science for his help in editing the manuscript. We are also grateful for the three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  1. Avicola G, Huq P (2003). The role of outflow geometry in the formation of the recirculating bulge region in coastal buoyant outflows. J Mar Res, 61(4): 411–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourrin F, Friend P L, Amos C L, Manca E, Ulses C, Palanques A, Durrieu de Madron X, Thompson C E L (2008). Sediment dispersal from a typical Mediterranean flood: the Têt River, Gulf of Lions. Cont Shelf Res, 28(15): 1895–1910CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chao S Y (1988a). River-forced estuarine plumes. J Phys Oceanogr, 18(1): 72–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chao S Y (1988b). Wind-driven motion of estuarine plumes. J Phys Oceanogr, 18(8): 1144–1166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chao S Y (1990). Tidal modulation of estuarine plumes. J Phys Oceanogr, 20(7): 1115–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen C S, Liu H D, Beardsley R C (2003). An unstructured grid, finitevolume, three-dimensional, primitive equations ocean model: application to coastal ocean and estuaries. J Atmos Ocean Technol, 20(1): 159–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen C S, Xue P F, Ding P X, Beardsley R C, Xu Q C, Mao XM, Gao G P, Qi J H, Li C Y, Lin H C, Cowles G, Shi M C (2008). Physical mechanisms for the offshore detachment of the Changjiang diluted water in the East China Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 113(C2): C02002Google Scholar
  8. Chen S N, Sanford L P (2009). Axial wind effects on stratification and longitudinal salt transport in an idealized, partially mixed estuary. J Phys Oceanogr, 39(8): 1905–1920CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Choi B J, Wilkin J L (2007). The effect of wind on the dispersal of the Hudson River plume. J Phys Oceanogr, 37(7): 1878–1897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dzwonkowski B, Park K, Collini R (2015). The coupled estuarine-shelf response of a river-dominated system during the transition from low to high discharge. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 120(9): 6145–6163Google Scholar
  11. Egbert G D, Erofeeva S Y (2002). Efficient inverse modeling of Barotropic Ocean Tides. J Atmos Ocean Technol, 19(2): 183–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fong D A, Geyer W R (2001). Response of a river plume during an upwelling favorable wind event. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 106(C1): 1067–1084CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fong D A, Geyer W R (2002). The alongshore transport of freshwater in a surface-trapped river plume. J Phys Oceanogr, 32(3): 957–972CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fong D A, Geyer WR, Signell R P (1997). The wind-forced response on a buoyant coastal current: observations of the western Gulf of Maine plume. J Mar Syst, 12(1–4): 69–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. García-Berdeal I, Hickey B, Kawase M (2002). Influence of wind stress and ambient flow on a high discharge river plume. J Geophys Res, 107(C9): 3130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Garvine R W (1995). A dynamical system for classifying buoyant coastal discharges. Cont Shelf Res, 15(13): 1585–1596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Garvine R W (1999). Penetration of buoyant coastal discharge onto the continental shelf: a numerical model experiment. J Phys Oceanogr, 29(8): 1892–1909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gaston T F, Schlacher T A, Connolly R M (2006). Flood discharges of a small river into open coastal waters: plume traits and material fate. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci, 69(1–2): 4–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ge J Z, Ding P X, Chen C S (2015). Low-salinity plume detachment under non-uniform summer wind off the Changjiang Estuary. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci, 156: 61–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Geyer W R (1997). Influence of wind on dynamics and flushing of shallow estuaries. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci, 44(6): 713–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Geyer WR, Hill P, Milligan T, Traykovski P (2000). The structure of the Eel River plume during floods. Cont Shelf Res, 20(16): 2067–2093CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Geyer W R, Hill P S, Kineke G C (2004). The transport, transformation and dispersal of sediment by buoyant coastal flows. Cont Shelf Res, 24(7–8): 927–949CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Guo X Y, Valle-Levinson A (2007). Tidal effects on estuarine circulation and outflow plume in the Chesapeake Bay. Cont Shelf Res, 27(1): 20–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hetland R D (2005). Relating river plume structure to vertical mixing. J Phys Oceanogr, 35(9): 1667–1688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Horner-Devine A R, Fong D A, Monismith S G, Maxworthy T (2006). Laboratory experiments simulating a coastal river inflow. J Fluid Mech, 555: 203–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huq P (2009). The role of Kelvin number on Bulge formation from estuarine buoyant outflows. Estuaries Coasts, 32(4): 709–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Isobe A (2005). Ballooning of river-plume bulge and its stabilization by tidal currents. J Phys Oceanogr, 35(12): 2337–2351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnson D, Weidemann A, Arnone R, Davis C (2001). Chesapeake Bay outflow plume and coastal upwelling events: physical and optical properties. J Geophys Res, 106(C6): 11613–11622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jurisa J T, Chant R (2012). The coupled Hudson River estuarine-plume response to variable wind and river forcings. Ocean Dyn, 62(5): 771–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jurisa J T, Chant R J (2013). Impact of offshore winds on a buoyant river plume system. J Phys Oceanogr, 43(12): 2571–2587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Large W, Pond S (1981). Open ocean momentum flux measurements in moderate to strong winds. J Phys Oceanogr, 11(3): 324–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lentz S J, Largier J (2006). The influence of wind forcing on the Chesapeake Bay buoyant coastal current. J Phys Oceanogr, 36(7): 1305–1316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Li Y, Li M (2011). Effects of winds on stratification and circulation in a partially mixed estuary. J Geophys Res, 116(C12): 12012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moffat C, Lentz S (2012). On the response of a buoyant plume to downwelling-favorable wind stress. J Phys Oceanogr, 42(7): 1083–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nof D, Pichevin T (2001). The ballooning of outflows. J Phys Oceanogr, 31(10): 3045–3058CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ostrander C E, Mc Manus M A, De Carlo E H, Mackenzie F T (2008). Temporal and spatial variability of freshwater plumes in a semienclosed estuarine–bay system. Estuaries Coasts, 31(1): 192–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pan J Y, Gu Y Z, Wang D X (2014). Observations and numerical modeling of the Pearl River plume in summer season. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119(4): 2480–2500Google Scholar
  38. Piñones A, Valle-Levinson A, Narváez D A, Vargas C A, Navarrete S A, Yuras G, Castilla J C (2005). Wind-induced diurnal variability in river plume motion. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci, 65(3): 513–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rabalais N N, Turner R E, Wiseman W J (2002). Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, aka “The dead zone”. Annu Rev Ecol Syst, 33(1): 235–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ralston D K, Geyer W R, Lerczak J A (2010). Structure, variability, and salt flux in a strongly forced salt wedge estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 115(C6):160–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rennie S E, Largier J L, Lentz S J (1999). Observations of a pulsed buoyancy current downstream of Chesapeake Bay. J Geophys Res, 104(C8): 18227–18240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Saha S, Moorthi S, Wu X, Wang J, Nadiga S, Tripp P, Behringer D, Hou Y T, Chuang H y, Iredell M, Ek M, Meng J, Yang R, Mendez M P, van den Dool H, Zhang Q, Wang W, Chen M, Becker E (2014). The NCEP Climate Forecast System Version 2. J Clim, 27(6): 2185–2208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sanders T M, Garvine R W (2001). Fresh water delivery to the continental shelf and subsequent mixing: an observational study. J Geophys Res, 106(C11): 27087–27101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shu Y Q, Chen J, Yao J L, Pan J Y, Wang W W, Mao H B, Wang D X (2014). Effects of the Pearl River plume on the vertical structure of coastal currents in the Northern South China Sea during summer 2008. Ocean Dyn, 64(12): 1743–1752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Shu Y Q, Wang D X, Zhu J A, Peng S Q (2011). The 4-D structure of upwelling and Pearl River plume in the northern South China Sea during summer 2008 revealed by a data assimilation model. Ocean Model, 36(3–4): 228–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Simpson J (1997). Physical processes in the ROFI regime. J Mar Syst, 12(1): 3–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Simpson J H, Crisp D J, Hearn C (1981). The shelf-sea fronts: implications of their existence and behaviour. Philos Trans R Soc Lond A, 302(1472): 531–546 (and Discussion)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Tarya A, Hoitink A J F, Van der Vegt M (2010). Tidal and subtidal flow patterns on a tropical continental shelf semi-insulated by coral reefs. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 115(C9): C09029CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tarya A, van der Vegt M, Hoitink A J F (2015).Wind forcing controls on river plume spreading on a tropical continental shelf. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 120(1): 16–35Google Scholar
  50. Vic C, Berger H, Treguier A M, Couvelard X (2014). Dynamics of an equatorial river plume: theory and numerical experiments applied to the congo plume case. J Phys Oceanogr, 44(3): 980–994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wang J H, Shen Y M, Guo Y K (2010). Seasonal circulation and influence factors of the Bohai Sea: a numerical study based on Lagrangian particle tracking method. Ocean Dyn, 60(6): 1581–1596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Warner J C, Geyer W R, Lerczak J A (2005). Numerical modeling of an estuary: a comprehensive skill assessment. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 110(C5): C05001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Warrick J A, Di Giacomo P M, Weisberg S B, Nezlin N P, Mengel M, Jones B H, Ohlmann J C, Washburn L, Terrill E J, Farnsworth K L (2007). River plume patterns and dynamics within the Southern California Bight. Cont Shelf Res, 27(19): 2427–2448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Whitehead J A (1985). The deflection of a baroclinic jet by a wall in a rotating fluid. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 157: 79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Whitney M M, Garvine R W (2005). Wind influence on a coastal buoyant outflow. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 110(C3): C03014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Whitney M M, Garvine R W (2006). Simulating the Delaware Bay buoyant outflow: comparison with observations. J Phys Oceanogr, 36(1): 3–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wu H, Zhu J R, Shen J, Wang H (2011). Tidal modulation on the Changjiang River plume in summer. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 116: C08017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Xia M, Xie L, Pietrafesa L J, Whitney MM (2011). The ideal response of a Gulf of Mexico estuary plume to wind forcing: its connection with salt flux and a Lagrangian view. J Geophys Res, 116(C8): C08035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yankovsky A E, Hickey B M, Munchow A K (2001). Impact of variable inflow on the dynamics of a coastal buoyant plume. J Geophys Res, 106(19): 809–819, 824Google Scholar
  60. Yin K, Harrison P J, Pond S, Beamish R J (1995). Entrainment of nitrate in the Fraser River Estuary and its biological implications. II. Effects of spring vs. neap tides and river discharge. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci, 40(5): 529–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zhang H, Sheng J Y (2013). Estimation of extreme sea levels over the eastern continental shelf of North America. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 118(11): 6253–6273Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine SciencesSun Yat-Sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  2. 2.Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Marine Resources and Coastal EngineeringSun Yat-Sen UniversityGuangzhouChina
  3. 3.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceThe College of William and MaryGloucester PointUSA

Personalised recommendations