Using surface drifter observations to measure tidal vortices and relative diffusion at Aransas Pass, Texas Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Tidal vortices play an important role in the flushing of coastal regions. At the mouth of a tidal inlet, the input of circulation by the ebb tide may force the formation of a starting-jet dipole vortex. The continuous ebb jet current also creates a periodic sequence of secondary vortices shed from the inlet mouth. In each case, these tidal vortices have a shallow aspect ratio, with a lateral extent much greater than the water depth. These shallow vortices affect the transport of passive tracers, such as nutrients and sediment from the estuary to the ocean and vice versa. Field observation of tidal vortices primarily relies on ensemble averaging over several vortex events that are repeatable in space and can be sampled by a fixed Eulerian measurement grid. This paper presents an adaptive approach for locating and measuring within tidal vortices that propagate offshore near inlets and advect along variable trajectories set by the wind-driven currents. A field experiment was conducted at Aransas Pass, Texas to measure these large-scale vortices. Locations of the vortices produced during ebb tide were determined using near real-time updates from surface drifters deployed near or within the inlet during ebb tide, and the paths of towed acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) transects were selected by analysis of the drifter observations. This method allowed ADCP transects to be collected within ebb generated tidal vortices, and the paths of the drifters indicated the presence of both the starting-jet dipole and the secondary vortices of the unstable ebb tidal jet. Drifter trajectories were also used to estimate the size of each observed vortex as well as the statistics of relative diffusion offshore of Aransas Pass. The field data confirmed the starting-jet spin-up time (time until the vortex dipole begins to propagate offshore) measured in the laboratory by Bryant et al. [6] and that the Strouhal condition of (formula presented.) predicts the shedding of secondary vortices from the inlet mouth. The size of the rotational core of the vortex is also shown to be approximated physically by the inlet width or by (formula presented.) Tidal vortices play an important role in the flushing of coastal regions. At the mouth of a tidal inlet, the input of circulation by the ebb tide may force the formation of a starting-jet dipole vortex. The continuous ebb jet current also creates a periodic sequence of secondary vortices shed from the inlet mouth. In each case, these tidal vortices have a shallow aspect ratio, with a lateral extent much greater than the water depth. These shallow vortices affect the transport of passive tracers, such as nutrients and sediment from the estuary to the ocean and vice versa. Field observation of tidal vortices primarily relies on ensemble averaging over several vortex events that are repeatable in space and can be sampled by a fixed Eulerian measurement grid. This paper presents an adaptive approach for locating and measuring within tidal vortices that propagate offshore near inlets and advect along variable trajectories set by the wind-driven currents. A field experiment was conducted at Aransas Pass, Texas to measure these large-scale vortices. Locations of the vortices produced during ebb tide were determined using near real-time updates from surface drifters deployed near or within the inlet during ebb tide, and the paths of towed acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) transects were selected by analysis of the drifter observations. This method allowed ADCP transects to be collected within ebb generated tidal vortices, and the paths of the drifters indicated the presence of both the starting-jet dipole and the secondary vortices of the unstable ebb tidal jet. Drifter trajectories were also used to estimate the size of each observed vortex as well as the statistics of relative diffusion offshore of Aransas Pass. The field data confirmed the starting-jet spin-up time (time until the vortex dipole begins to propagate offshore) measured in the laboratory by Bryant et al. [6] and that the Strouhal condition of (formula presented.) predicts the shedding of secondary vortices from the inlet mouth. The size of the rotational core of the vortex is also shown to be approximated physically by the inlet width or by (formula presented.), where U is the maximum velocity through the inlet channel and T is the tidal period, and confirms results found in laboratory experiments by Nicolau del Roure et al. [23]. Additionally, the scale of diffusion was approximately 1–15 km and the apparent diffusivity was between 2–130 (formula presented.) following Richardsons law.(formula presented.), where U is the maximum velocity through the inlet channel and T is the tidal period, and confirms results found in laboratory experiments by Nicolau del Roure et al. [23]. Additionally, the scale of diffusion was approximately 1–15 km and the apparent diffusivity was between 2–130 (formula presented.) following Richardsons law.

published proceedings

  • Environmental Fluid Mechanics

author list (cited authors)

  • Whilden, K. A., Socolofsky, S. A., Chang, K., & Irish, J. L.

citation count

  • 9

complete list of authors

  • Whilden, Kerri A||Socolofsky, Scott A||Chang, Kuang-An||Irish, Jennifer L

publication date

  • October 2014