Estuarine Frontogenesis Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractModel studies and observations in the Hudson River estuary indicate that frontogenesis occurs as a result of topographic forcing. Bottom fronts form just downstream of lateral constrictions, where the width of the estuary increases in the down-estuary (i.e., seaward) direction. The front forms during the last several hours of the ebb, when the combination of adverse pressure gradient in the expansion and baroclinicity cause a stagnation of near-bottom velocity. Frontogenesis is observed in two dynamical regimes: one in which the front develops at a transition from subcritical to supercritical flow and the other in which the flow is everywhere supercritical. The supercritical front formation appears to be associated with lateral flow separation. Both types of fronts are three-dimensional, with strong lateral gradients along the flanks of the channel. During spring tide conditions, the fronts dissipate during the flood, whereas during neap tides the fronts are advected landward during the flood. The zone of enhanced density gradient initiates frontogenesis at multiple constrictions along the estuary as it propagates landward more than 60 km during several days of neap tides. Frontogenesis and frontal propagation may thus be essential elements of the spring-to-neap transition to stratified conditions in partially mixed estuaries.

publication date

  • February 2015