Subtidal circulation on the Alabama shelf during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Academic Article uri icon


  • Water column velocity and hydrographic measurements on the inner Alabama shelf are used to examine the flow field and its forcing dynamics during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the spring and summer of 2010. Comparison between two sites provides insight into the flow variability and dynamics of a shallow, highly stratified shelf in the presence of complicating geographic and bathymetric features. Seasonal currents reveal a convergent flow with strong, highly sheared offshore flow near a submarine bank just outside of Mobile Bay. At synoptic time scales, the flow is relatively consistent with typical characteristics of wind-driven Ekman coastal circulation. Analysis of the depth-averaged along-shelf momentum balance indicates that both bottom stress and along-shelf pressure gradient act to counter wind stress. As a consequence of the along-shelf pressure gradient and thermal wind shear, flow reversals in the bottom currents can occur during periods of transitional winds. Despite the relatively short distance between the two sites (14 km), significant spatial variability is observed. This spatial variability is argued to be a result of local variations in the bathymetry and density field as the study region encompasses a submarine bank near the mouth of a major freshwater source. Given the physical parameters of the system, along-shelf flow in this region would be expected to separate from the local isobaths, generating a mean offshore flow. The local, highly variable density field is expected to be, in part, responsible for the differences in the vertical variability in the current profiles. Copyright 2012 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Geophysical Research

author list (cited authors)

  • Dzwonkowski, B., & Park, K.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Dzwonkowski, Brian||Park, Kyeong

publication date

  • January 2012