Hydrographic variability on a coastal shelf directly influenced by estuarine outflow
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Hydrographic variability on the Alabama shelf just outside of Mobile Bay, a major source of river discharge into the Gulf of Mexico, is examined using time series of water column temperature and surface and bottom salinity from a mooring site with a depth of 20. m in conjunction with a series of across-shelf CTD surveys. The time series data show variability in a range of time scales. The density variation is affected by both salinity and temperature, with its relatively strong annual signal mostly determined by temperature and its year to year variability mostly determined by salinity. Seasonal mean structures of temperature, salinity, and density show a transition from estuarine to shelf conditions in which three regions with distinct seasonal characteristics in their horizontal and vertical gradient structures are identified. Correlation analysis with the available forcing functions demonstrates the influence of Mobile Bay on the variability at the mooring site. At low frequencies, river discharge from Mobile Bay has a varying influence on salinity, which is absent during the periods with unusually low discharge. At shorter synoptic time scales, both the estuarine response to the across-shelf wind stress and the shelf response to the along-shelf wind stress are significantly correlated with temperature/salinity variability: the former becoming important for the surface layer during winter whereas the latter for the bottom layer during both winter and summer. These forcing functions are important players in determining the estuarine-shelf exchange, which in turn is found to contribute to the shelf hydrographic structure. 2011 Elsevier Ltd.