A model study of tide- and wind-induced mixing in the Columbia River Estuary and plume

Parker MacCready, Neil S. Banas, Barbara M. Hickey, Edward P. Dever, Yonggang Liu

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137 Citations (Scopus)


A numerical simulation of circulation in the Columbia River estuary and plume during the summer of 2004 is used to explore the mixing involved as river water is transformed into shelf water. The model is forced with realistic river flow, tides, wind stress, surface heat flux, and ocean boundary conditions. Simulated currents and water properties on the shelf near the mouth are compared with records from three moorings (all in 72 m of water) and five CTD sections. The model is found to have reasonable skill; statistically significant correlations between observed and modeled surface currents, temperature, and salinity are all 0.42-0.72 for the mooring records. Equations for the tidally averaged, volume-integrated mechanical energy budget (kinetic and potential) are derived, with attention to the effects of: (i) Reynolds averaging, (ii) a time varying volume due to the free surface, and (iii) dissipation very close to the bottom. It is found that convergence of tidal pressure work is the most important forcing term in the estuary. In the far field plume (which has a volume 15 times greater than that of the estuary), the net forcing is weaker than that in the estuary, and may be due to either tidal currents or wind stress depending on the time period considered. These forcings lead to irreversible mixing of the stratification (buoyancy flux) that turns river water into shelf water. This occurs in both the plume and estuary, but appears to be more efficient (17% vs. 5%), and somewhat greater (4.2 MW vs. 3.3 MW), in plume vs. estuary. This demonstrates the importance of both wind and tidal forcing to watermass transformation, and the need to consider the estuary and plume as part of a single system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-291
Number of pages14
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Issue number1
Early online date26 Mar 2008
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2009


  • Columbia River
  • energy budget
  • estuarine dynamics
  • mathematical models
  • Oregon
  • river plumes
  • USA
  • Washington


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