Water Resources Research

A novel approach to flow estimation in tidal rivers



[1] Reliable estimation of river discharge to the ocean from large tidal rivers is vital for water resources management and climate analyses. Due to the difficulties inherent in measuring tidal-river discharge, flow records are often limited in length and/or quality and tidal records often predate discharge records. Tidal theory indicates that tides and river discharge interact through quadratic bed friction, which diminishes and distorts the tidal wave as discharge increases. We use this phenomenon to develop a method of estimating river discharge for time periods with tidal data but no flow record. Employing sequential 32 day harmonic analyses of tidal properties, we calibrate San Francisco (SF), CA tide data to the Sacramento River delta outflow index from 1930 to 1990, and use the resulting relationship to hindcast river flow from 1858 to 1929. The M2 admittance (a ratio of the observed M2 tidal constituent to its astronomical forcing) best reproduces high flows, while low-flow periods are better represented by amplitude ratios based on higher harmonics (e.g., inline image). Results show that the annual inflow to SF Bay is now 30% less than before 1900 and confirm that the flood of January 1862 was the largest since 1858.