Mixing and dispersion of a small estuarine plume
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Entrainment velocity, salt flux and the turbulent diffusivity of salt are estimated in the outflow of a small, radially spreading buoyant outflow, just outside of the Teign Estuary mouth, as a means to compare mixing dynamics between very small and larger–scale estuarine and river plumes, and build on a scant knowledge base regarding the former. The analysis was made using a control volume approach, based on the conservation of momentum, volume and salt, from a Lagrangian perspective. Drifting buoys were used to accomplish this. The analysis was based on that employed by McCabe et al. (2008), with some modifications to fit a small-scale outflow, namely: repeat deployments, shorter drifter tracks, and deployment-specific criteria used for choosing the plume base, a step in the analysis used to calculate vertical entrainment, flux and diffusivity. In addition, temperature was used as a proxy for salinity, and this is evaluated in the results. Overall results were compared to a similar study, which was conducted in the Columbia River plume, a system much larger in scale to the Teign. Drifter experiments were conducted on multiple days, under different conditions (i.e. wind, tides, river flow), and those results are discussed briefly, but the focus is on one specific day, April 3, 2014, where conditions most closely matched those of the comparison study, and those results are compared between the two systems. Entrainment velocity was measured along the drifter tracks, in the near-field plume, where shear-induced mixing dominates. Drifter track subsections were chosen so as to avoid source or frontal dynamics, the plume base was chosen for individual deployments as the plume dynamics could change relatively quickly, and repeat deployments were conducted as a way to look at near-field plume evolution over the course of the ebb (and with a smaller plume, time allowed for this) . On April 3, the mean value for entrainment velocity for the four deployments chosen in the Teign outflow was 4.3 x 10-4 ms-1. The mean cast value was slightly higher at 7.6 x 10-4 ms-1, as casts values were typically measured at the beginning of the drifter tracks. Entrainment values at the cast sites were calculated in the same way as the track values, taking plume thickness from hydrographic casts, as a means to evaluate accuracy of track values, which are based on a modelled plume thickness. A rough estimate for the mean entrainment velocity for one pair of drifters used in the Columbia River was 9 x 10-4 ms-1, approximately double that of the Teign, but within the same order of magnitude. Salt flux values ranged from 0-5 x 10-2 psu ms-1 and from 0-3 x 10-2 psu ms-1 for the Teign and the Columbia, respectively, and diffusivities ranged from 0.5-5.8 x 10-2 m2s-1 and from 0.2-9.6 x 10-3 m2s-1. With a similar range of entrainment and salt flux values, and almost an order of magnitude difference between diffusivity values, it was determined that weaker density gradients in the Teign are responsible for the latter, and that this increased level of mixing results in a larger horizontal horizontal salinity gradient, which balances out the terms in the entrainment equation that are related solely to the physical size of the system (i.e. plume thickness, velocity and the vertical salinity gradient). This higher level of mixing of a smaller physical entity, supports the view that smaller plumes mix more thoroughly over a shorter timescale, resulting in a larger impact to the local environment into which they flow.
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