The Scaling and Structure of the Estuarine Bottom Boundary Layer Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract A two-week dataset from a partially and periodically stratified estuary quantifies variability in the turbulence across the tidal and spring–neap time scales. These observations have been fit with a two-parameter model of the Reynolds stress profile, which produces estimates of the time variation of the bottom boundary layer height and the friction velocity. Conditions at the top of the bottom boundary layer indicate that the dynamics governing the development of the estuarine bottom boundary layer are different on ebb tides than on flood tides. The asymmetry in the flow is explained by consideration of the strain-induced buoyancy flux, which is stabilizing on ebb tides and destabilizing on flood tides. Based on these observations, a scaling approach to estimating estuarine bottom boundary layer parameters (height and friction velocity) is presented, which includes a modified Monin–Obukhov length scale to account for the horizontal buoyancy flux created by the sheared advection. Comparison with the observations of boundary layer height and friction velocity suggests that this approach may be successful in predicting bottom boundary layer parameters in estuaries and coastal regions with significant horizontal buoyancy fluxes. Comparison between the strain-induced buoyancy flux and shear production indicates that the straining of the density field is an important contributor to the turbulent kinetic energy budget and creates an asymmetry in turbulent energy between ebb and flood tides. It appears that the structure of the turbulence, specifically the ratio of the Reynolds stress to the turbulent energy, is also modified by tidal straining, further accentuating the ebb–flood asymmetries.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005