Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


The characteristics and effects of intrusions of estuarine outflow over the inner shelf were examined, based on hydrographic and meteorological observations obtained during the "Coastal Ocean Processes" (CoOP'94) field experiment located off the Outer Banks at Duck, North Carolina. The episodic presence of distinct low salinity water masses issuing from the Chesapeake Bay created an intermittent baroclinic coastal current along the North Carolina coast. Under low wind conditions, this current occupied the upper half of the water column within 9 km of the coast. The plume was bounded by a distinct southward-propagating front, a region offshore of high horizontal salinity and velocity gradients, and a strong pycnocline underneath. The intrusion traveled along the coast at a speed comparable to the linear internal wave speed of a two-layer system. Intrusions were generally associated with southward winds (downwelling conditions); however, several observed events opposed northward wind-driven flow. The geometry and dynamics of the low salinity plume were strongly controlled by the local winds. Northward (upwelling) winds caused the plumes to widen offshore and thin vertically. Southward (downwelling) winds acted initially to speed the intrusions' alongcoast movement and cause them to narrow and deepen. Under strong downwelling winds, however, the intrusions contacted the bottom. This greatly decreased their speeds and caused diffusive widening. Propagation speeds of all plumes were seen to slow steadily through the study region. This was attributed to the observed mixing with ambient water along the path of the intrusion which increased its salinity, thereby reducing the buoyancy forcing. Under the continued influence of upwelling winds, the low salinity intrusions moved rapidly away from the coast and formed shallow lenses floating over the ambient shelf water. These generally dissipated in 1 to 2 days. The theoretical offshore transport response to wind forcing was investigated, illustrating two dynamical behaviors of the plumes, depending on whether they occupied the entire water column or were vertically segregated by stratification. The meteorological control of Bay/shelf exchange was examined to better comprehend the pulsed timing of the low salinity intrusions, which occurred every 2 to 8 days. Estimates of volume flux were derived from temporal variations of waterlevel measurements within the Chesapeake Bay. The volume flux time series exhibited strong peaks of outflow, which preceded the low salinity events off Duck, N.C. by an average of 1.1 days, a time lag consistent with the observed alongcoast propagation speeds.



© The Author

Included in

Oceanography Commons