San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
Flow Convergence Caused by a Salinity Minimum in a Tidal Channel
- Author(s): Warner, John C.
- Schoellhamer, David H.
- Burau, Jon R.
- Schladow, S. Geoffrey
- et al.
Residence times of dissolved substances and sedimentation rates in tidal channels are affected by residual (tidally averaged) circulation patterns. One influence on these circulation patterns is the longitudinal density gradient. In most estuaries the longitudinal density gradient typically maintains a constant direction. However, a junction of tidal channels can create a local reversal (change in sign) of the density gradient. This can occur due to a difference in the phase of tidal currents in each channel. In San Francisco Bay, the phasing of the currents at the junction of Mare Island Strait and Carquinez Strait produces a local salinity minimum in Mare Island Strait. At the location of a local salinity minimum the longitudinal density gradient reverses direction. This paper presents four numerical models that were used to investigate the circulation caused by the salinity minimum: (1) A simple one-dimensional (1D) finite difference model demonstrates that a local salinity minimum is advected into Mare Island Strait from the junction with Carquinez Strait during flood tide. (2) A three-dimensional (3D) hydrodynamic finite element model is used to compute the tidally averaged circulation in a channel that contains a salinity minimum (a change in the sign of the longitudinal density gradient) and compares that to a channel that contains a longitudinal density gradient in a constant direction. The tidally averaged circulation produced by the salinity minimum is characterized by converging flow at the bed and diverging flow at the surface, whereas the circulation produced by the constant direction gradient is characterized by converging flow at the bed and downstream surface currents. These velocity fields are used to drive both a particle tracking and a sediment transport model. (3) A particle tracking model demonstrates a 30 percent increase in the residence time of neutrally buoyant particles transported through the salinity minimum, as compared to transport through a constant direction density gradient. (4) A sediment transport model demonstrates increased deposition at the near-bed null point of the salinity minimum, as compared to the constant direction gradient null point. These results are corroborated by historically noted large sedimentation rates and a local maximum of selenium accumulation in clams at the null point in Mare Island Strait.