loading page

Tidal dispersion in short estuaries
  • Adrian Mikhail Palaci Garcia,
  • W Rockwell Geyer
Adrian Mikhail Palaci Garcia
MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Applied Ocean Science & Engineering

Corresponding Author:garciaap@mit.edu

Author Profile
W Rockwell Geyer
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Author Profile


The salinity distribution of an estuary depends on the balance between the river outflow, which is seaward, and a dispersive salt flux, which is landward. The dispersive salt flux at a fixed cross-section can be divided into shear dispersion, which is caused by spatial correlations of the cross-sectionally varying velocity and salinity, and the tidal oscillatory salt flux, which results from the tidal correlation between the cross-section averaged, tidally varying components of velocity and salinity. The theoretical moving plane analysis of Dronkers and van de Kreeke (1986) indicates that the oscillatory salt flux is exactly equal to the difference between the “local” shear dispersion at a fixed location and the shear dispersion which occurred elsewhere within a tidal excursion – therefore, they refer to the oscillatory salt flux as “nonlocal” dispersion. We apply their moving plane analysis to a numerical model of a short, tidally dominated estuary and provide the first quantitative confirmation of the theoretical result that the spatiotemporal variability of shear dispersion accounts for the oscillatory salt flux. Shear dispersion is localized in space and time due to the tidal variation of currents and the position of the along-channel salinity distribution with respect to topographic features. We find that dispersion near the mouth contributes strongly to the salt balance, especially under strong river and tidal forcing. Additionally, while vertical shear dispersion produces the majority of dispersive salt flux during neap tide and high flow, lateral mechanisms provide the dominant mode of dispersion during spring tide and low flow.