On the low-frequency transport processes in a shallow coastal lagoon
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The low-frequency transport processes in a small, shallow coastal lagoon (Indian River Bay, Delaware) are examined based on a set of data derived from tide gauges, near-bottom current meter measurements, and drifter releases. The subtidal sea-level fluctuations in the interior of the lagoon are forced primarily by the coastal sea-level fluctuations off the mouth of the inlet, which connects the lagoon with the coastal ocean. The effect of local wind plays a secondary role in modifying the coastally forced sea level inside the lagoon. Given the continuity constraint which links sea-level fluctuations to the depth and laterally integrated barotropic transport, the coastal pumping effect would be expected to be the dominant factor in controlling the subtidal barotropic exchange within the bay. However, the dominance of the coastal pumping effect on the barotropic exchange does not readily translate into the dominance of this effect on the transport and distribution of waterborne material in the bay at subtidal frequencies. The observed nearbottom subtidal current fluctuations are not coherent with the coastal sea-level fluctuations. The observed current is also much stronger than the barotropic current inferred from the continuity constraint. This suggests the presence of a depth-dependent flow field, with current in the upper layer fluctuating in opposite direction to that at depth. Furthermore, the observed near-bottom current also shows significant spatial variability within the bay. As for the mean current, the residual flow field shows distinctly different patterns between the surface and the bottom. The residual current at the surface exhibits a consistent mean flow out of the bay. At the bottom, the residual current shows a mean flow into the estuary in the upper part of the lagoon and a spatially variable flow in the lower part of the lagoon. A competition between gravitational circulation and tidally rectified current may contribute to the observed vertical and horizontal variabilities in the residual flow field.
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