A buoyant plume adjacent to a headland-Observations of the Elwha River plume

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Abstract

Small rivers commonly discharge into coastal settings with topographic complexities - such as headlands and islands - but these settings are underrepresented in river plume studies compared to more simplified, straight coasts. The Elwha River provides a unique opportunity to study the effects of coastal topography on a buoyant plume, because it discharges into the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the western side of its deltaic headland. Here we show that this headland induces flow separation and transient eddies in the tidally dominated currents (O(100. cm/s)), consistent with other headlands in oscillatory flow. These flow conditions are observed to strongly influence the buoyant river plume, as predicted by the "small-scale" or "narrow" dynamical classification using Garvine's (1995) system. Because of the transient eddies and the location of the river mouth on the headland, flow immediately offshore of the river mouth is directed eastward twice as frequently as it is westward. This results in a buoyant plume that is much more frequently "bent over" toward the east than the west. During bent over plume conditions, the plume was attached to the eastern shoreline while having a distinct, cuspate front along its westernmost boundary. The location of the front was found to be related to the magnitude and direction of local flow during the preceding O(1. h), and increases in alongshore flow resulted in deeper freshwater mixing, stronger baroclinic anomalies, and stronger hugging of the coast. During bent over plume conditions, we observed significant convergence of river plume water toward the frontal boundary within 1. km of the river mouth. These results show how coastal topography can strongly influence buoyant plume behavior, and they should assist with understanding of initial coastal sediment dispersal pathways from the Elwha River during a pending dam removal project. © 2010.

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Warrick, J. A., & Stevens, A. W. (2011). A buoyant plume adjacent to a headland-Observations of the Elwha River plume. Continental Shelf Research, 31(2), 85–97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2010.11.007

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