Role of asymmetric tidal mixing in the subtidal dynamics of narrow estuaries


Corresponding author: P. Cheng, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Cambridge, MD 21613, USA. (


[1] The role of asymmetric tidal mixing (ATM) in subtidal estuarine dynamics is investigated using a series of generic numerical experiments that simulate narrow estuaries under different stratification and external forcing conditions. The focus is on quantifying the characteristics of ATM-induced flow and its contributions to stratification and salt transport. The flow induced by ATM has a two-layer vertical structure in periodically stratified estuaries, similar to that of the density-driven flow. It has a three-layer vertical structure in the central regime of weakly stratified estuaries, and a reverse two-layer structure in highly stratified estuaries. The changes in vertical distribution of ATM-induced flows result from the influence of stratification on the covariance of eddy viscosity and vertical shear. Such covariance represents the driving force of ATM-induced flow in the tidally averaged momentum equation. Compared to density-driven flow, ATM-induced flow dominates in periodically stratified estuaries with strong tides, has the same order of magnitude in weakly stratified estuaries with moderate tides, and is less important in highly stratified estuaries with weak tides. In contrast to density-driven flow that always increases estuarine stratification and transports salt landward, the ATM-induced flow exhibits different behaviors because of its varying vertical structure. In estuaries with strong tides, ATM-induced flow tends to enhance stratification and to transport salt landward, similar to density-driven flow. In estuaries with weak tides, ATM-induced flow tends to reduce stratification and to transport salt seaward.