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Inner-shelf circulation and sediment dynamics on a series of shoreface connected ridges offshore of Fire Island, NY

December 1, 2014

Locations along the inner-continental shelf offshore of Fire Island, NY, are characterized by a series of shoreface-connected ridges (SFCRs). These sand ridges have approximate dimensions of 10 km in length, 3 km spacing, and up to ∼8 m ridge to trough relief and are oriented obliquely at approximately 30° clockwise from the coastline. Stability analysis from previous studies explains how sand ridges such as these could be formed and maintained by storm-driven flows directed alongshore with a key maintenance mechanism of offshore deflected flows over ridge crests and onshore in the troughs. We examine these processes both with a limited set of idealized numerical simulations and analysis of observational data. Model results confirm that alongshore flows over the SFCRs exhibit offshore veering of currents over the ridge crests and onshore-directed flows in the troughs, and demonstrate the opposite circulation pattern for a reverse wind. To further investigate these maintenance processes, oceanographic instruments were deployed at seven sites on the SFCRs offshore of Fire Island to measure water levels, ocean currents, waves, suspended sediment concentrations, and bottom stresses from January to April 2012. Data analysis reveals that during storms with winds from the northeast, the processes of offshore deflection of currents over ridge crests and onshore in the troughs were observed, and during storm events with winds from the southwest, a reverse flow pattern over the ridges occurred. Computations of suspended sediment fluxes identify periods that are consistent with SFCR maintenance mechanisms. Alongshore winds from the northeast drove fluxes offshore on the ridge crest and onshore in the trough that would tend to promote ridge maintenance. However, alongshore winds from the southwest drove opposite circulations. The wind fields are related to different storm types that occur in the region (low-pressure systems, cold fronts, and warm fronts). From the limited data set, we identify that low-pressure systems drive sediment fluxes that tend to promote stability and maintain the SFCRs while cold front type storms appear to drive circulations that are in the opposite sense and may not be a supporting mechanism for ridge maintenance.