High-resolution simulations of a macrotidal estuary using SUNTANS

Wang, B, Fringer OB, Giddings SN, Fong DA.  2009.  High-resolution simulations of a macrotidal estuary using SUNTANS. Ocean Modelling. 26(1-2):60-85., Oxford, U.K.

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The parallel, finite-volume, unstructured-grid SUNTANS model has been employed to study the interaction of the tides with complex bathymetry in the macrotidal Snohomish River estuary. The unstructured grid resolves the large-scale, O(10 km) tidal dynamics of the estuary while employing 8 m grid-resolution at a specific region of interest in the vicinity of a confluence of two channels and extensive intertidal mudflats to understand detailed local intratidal flow processes. After calibrating tidal forcing parameters to enforce a match between free surface and depth-averaged velocities at several locations throughout the domain, we analyze the complex dynamics of the confluence and show that the exposure of the intertidal mudflats during low tide induces a complex flow reversal. When coupled with the longitudinal salinity gradient, this flow reversal results in a highly variable salinity field, which has profound implications for local mixing, stratification and the occurrence of fine-scale flow structures. This complex flow is then used as a testbed from which to describe several challenges associated with high resolution modeling of macrotidal estuaries, including specification of high resolution bathymetry, specification of the bottom stress, computation of the nonhydrostatic pressure, accurate advection of momentum, and the influence of the freshwater inflow. The results indicate that with high resolution comes the added difficulty of requiring more accurate specification of boundary conditions. In particular, the bottom bathymetry plays the most important role in achieving accurate predictions when high resolution is employed.