The Dispersal of Dense Water Formed in an Idealized Coastal Polynya on a Shallow Sloping Shelf Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract This study examines the dispersal of dense water formed in an idealized coastal polynya on a sloping shelf in the absence of ambient circulation and stratification. Both numerical and laboratory experiments reveal two separate bottom pathways for the dense water: an offshore plume moving downslope into deeper ambient water and a coastal current flowing in the direction of Kelvin wave propagation. Scaling analysis shows that the velocity of the offshore plume is proportional not only to the reduced gravity, bottom slope, and inverse of the Coriolis parameter, but also to the ratio of the dense water depth to total water depth. The dense water coastal current is generated by the along-shelf baroclinic pressure gradient. Its dynamics can be separated into two stages: (i) near the source region, where viscous terms are negligible, its speed is proportional to the reduced gravity wave speed and (ii) in the far field, where bottom drag becomes important and balances the pressure gradient, the velocity is proportional to Hc[g?/(LCd)]1/2 in which Hc is the water depth at the coast, g? the reduced gravity, Cd the quadratic bottom drag coefficient, and L the along-shelf span of the baroclinic pressure gradient. The velocity scalings are verified using numerical and laboratory sensitivity experiments. The numerical simulations suggest that only 3%–23% of the dense water enters the coastal pathway, and the percentage depends highly on the ratio of the velocities of the offshore and coastal plumes. This makes the velocity ratio potentially useful for observational studies to assess the amount of dense water formed in coastal polynyas.

publication date

  • June 1, 2014