The Influence of Stratification and Nonlocal Turbulent Production on Estuarine Turbulence: An Assessment of Turbulence Closure with Field Observations Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Field observations of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), dissipation rate ?, and turbulent length scale demonstrate the impact of both density stratification and nonlocal turbulent production on turbulent momentum flux. The data were collected in a highly stratified salt wedge estuary using the Mobile Array for Sensing Turbulence (MAST). Estimates of the dominant length scale of turbulent motions obtained from the vertical velocity spectra provide field confirmation of the theoretical limitation imposed by either the distance to the boundary or the Ozmidov scale, whichever is smaller. Under boundary-limited conditions, anisotropy generally increases with increasing shear and decreased distance to the boundary. Under Ozmidov-limited conditions, anisotropy increases rapidly when the gradient Richardson number exceeds 0.25. Both boundary-limited and Ozmidov-limited conditions demonstrate significant deviations from a local production–dissipation balance that are largely consistent with simple scaling relationships for the vertical divergence in TKE flux. Both the impact of stratification and deviation from equilibrium turbulence observed in the data are largely consistent with commonly used turbulence closure models that employ “nonequilibrium” stability functions. The data compare most favorably with the nonequilibrium version of the L. H. Kantha and C. A. Clayson stability functions. Not only is this approach more consistent with the observed critical gradient Richardson number of 0.25, but it also accounts for the large deviations from equilibrium turbulence in a manner consistent with the observations.

publication date

  • January 1, 2011