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Observations of currents and density structure across a buoyant plume front

January 1, 1993

Observations of the Mobile Bay, Alabama, plume during a flood event in April 1991 reveal significant differences in the current field on either side of a front associated with the buoyant plume. During a strong southeasterly wind, turbid, low salinity water from Mobile Bay was pushed through an opening in the west side of the ebb-tidal delta and moved parallel to the coast. A stable front developed between the low salinity water of the buoyant plume (11‰) and the high salinity coastal water (>23‰) that was being forced landward by the prevailing winds. Despite the shallow water depth of 6 m, measurements of currents, temperature, and salinity show large shears and density gradients in both the vertical and the horizontal directions. At a station outside of the buoyant plume, currents at 0.5 m and 1.5 m below the surface were in the same direction as the wind. Inside the plume, however, currents at 0.5 m below the surface were parallel to the coast, 45°, off the direction of the wind and the magnitude was 45% larger than the magnitude of the surface currents outside the plume. Beneath the level of the plume, the currents were identical to the wind-driven currents in the ambient water south of the front. Our observations suggest that the wind-driven surface currents of the ambient water converged with the buoyant plume at the front and were subducted beneath the plume. The motion of the ambient coastal surface water was in the direction of the local wind stress, however, the motion of the plume had no northerly component of motion. The plume also did not show any flow toward the front, suggesting a balance between the northerly component of wind stress and the southerly component of buoyant spreading. In addition, the motion of the plume did not appear to affect the motion of the underlying ambient water, suggesting a lack of mixing between the two waters.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1993
Title Observations of currents and density structure across a buoyant plume front
DOI 10.2307/1352762
Authors G. Gelfenbaum, R. P. Stumpf
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Estuaries
Index ID 70018356
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center