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Dispersion and Stratification Dynamics in the Upper Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel

  • Author(s): Lenoch, Leah K.;
  • Stumpner, Paul R.;
  • Burau, Jon R.;
  • Loken, Luke C.;
  • Sadro, Steve
  • et al.
Abstract

Hydrodynamics control the movement of water and material within and among habitats, where time-scales of mixing can exert bottom-up regulatory effects on aquatic ecosystems through their influence on primary production. The San Francisco Estuary (estuary) is a low-productivity ecosystem, which is in part responsible for constraining higher trophic levels, including fishes. Many research and habitat-restoration efforts trying to increase primary production have been conducted, including, as described here, a whole-ecosystem nutrient addition experiment where calcium nitrate was applied in the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel (DWSC) to see if phytoplankton production could be increased and exported out of the DWSC. As an integral part of this experiment, we investigated the physical mechanisms that control mixing, and how these mechanisms affect the strength and duration of thermal stratification, which we revealed as critical for controlling phytoplankton dynamics in the relatively turbid upper DWSC. Analysis of a suite of mixing mechanisms and time-scales show that both tidal currents and wind control mixing rates and stratification dynamics in the DWSC. Longitudinal and vertical dispersion increased during periods of high wind, during which wind speed influenced dispersion more than tidal currents. Thermal stratification developed most days, which slowed vertical mixing but was rapidly broken down by wind-induced mixing. Stratification rarely persisted for longer than 24 hours, limiting phytoplankton production in the study area. The interaction between physical mechanisms that control mixing rates, mediate stratification dynamics, and ultimately limit primary production in the DWSC may be useful in informing habitat restoration elsewhere in the Delta and in other turbid aquatic environments.

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