Modeling and understanding turbulent mixing in a macrotidal salt wedge estuary

Wang, B, Giddings SN, Fringer OB, Gross ES, Fong DA, Monismith SG.  2011.  Modeling and understanding turbulent mixing in a macrotidal salt wedge estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research. 116(C02036):1-23.

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A high-resolution three-dimensional numerical simulation is performed with the parallel, unstructured grid SUNTANS model to study the spatiotemporal dynamics of turbulent mixing in a shallow, macrotidal salt wedge estuary that experiences periodic mixing and strong stratification. Unresolved vertical mixing is parameterized with the k − kl closure scheme with the Canuto-A stability functions based on a careful comparison of multiple two-equation closure schemes and stability functions via the generic length scale approach. The predictions of velocity, salinity, Richardson number, and Reynolds stress are in good agreement with field observations, and the top and bottom salinity predictions achieve skill scores of 0.86 and 0.91, respectively. The model shows that the salt wedge starts to strengthen upstream at the beginning of weak ebb and gradually expands downstream during the weak tide. Mixing is most active along a density interface during the weak ebb, while it is most active in a bottom mixed layer during weak flood, consistent with the findings inferred from the observations. Stratification decays during the strong ebb in a mixing event along the horizontal extent of the salt wedge while it is also being advected offshore. Local mixing is shown to account for roughly half of the decay rate of the stratification in this process. Numerical experiments are performed to investigate the response of stratification and mixing to changes in the magnitude of the buoyancy. High sensitivity is shown under intermediate levels of stratification that occur in the real system, which becomes considerably weaker under more extreme conditions.