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Coherence of river and ocean conditions along the US West Coast during storms

January 1, 2011

The majority of water and sediment discharge from the small, mountainous watersheds of the US West Coast occurs during and immediately following winter storms. The physical conditions (waves, currents, and winds) within and acting upon the proximal coastal ocean during these winter storms strongly influence dispersal patterns. We examined this river–ocean temporal coherence for four coastal river–shelf systems of the US West Coast (Umpqua, Eel, Salinas, and Santa Clara) to evaluate whether specific ocean conditions occur during floods that may influence coastal dispersal of sediment. Eleven years of corresponding river discharge, wind, and wave data were obtained for each river–shelf system from USGS and NOAA historical records, and each record was evaluated for seasonal and event-based patterns. Because near-bed shear stresses due to waves influence sediment resuspension and transport, we used spectral wave data to compute and evaluate wave-generated bottom-orbital velocities. The highest values of wave energy and discharge for all four systems were consistently observed between October 15 and March 15, and there were strong latitudinal patterns observed in these data with lower discharge and wave energies in the southernmost systems. During floods we observed patterns of river–ocean coherence that differed from the overall seasonal patterns. For example, downwelling winds generally prevailed during floods in the northern two systems (Umpqua and Eel), whereas winds in the southern systems (Salinas and Santa Clara) were generally downwelling before peak discharge and upwelling after peak discharge. Winds not associated with floods were generally upwelling on all four river–shelf systems. Although there are seasonal variations in river–ocean coherence, waves generally led floods in the three northern systems, while they lagged floods in the Santa Clara. Combined, these observations suggest that there are consistent river–ocean coherence patterns along the US West Coast during winter storms and that these patterns vary substantially with latitude. These results should assist with future evaluations of flood plume formation and sediment fate along this coast.

Publication Year 2011
Title Coherence of river and ocean conditions along the US West Coast during storms
DOI 10.1016/j.csr.2011.01.012
Authors T. A. Kniskern, Jonathan Warrick, K.L. Farnsworth, R. A. Wheatcroft, M.A. Goni
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Continental Shelf Research
Index ID 70034812
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse