American Society of Civil Engineers

Modeling a Three-dimensional River Plume over Continental Shelf Using a 3D Unstructured Grid Model

by Ralph T. Cheng, (U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California) and Vincenzo Casulli, (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)

pp. 1027-1043, (doi:

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Document type: Conference Proceeding Paper
Part of: Estuarine and Coastal Modeling (2003)
Abstract: River derived fresh water discharging into an adjacent continental shelf forms a trapped river plume that propagates in a narrow region along the coast. These river plumes are real and they have been observed in the field. Many previous investigations have reported some aspects of the river plume properties, which are sensitive to stratification, Coriolis acceleration, winds (upwelling or downwelling), coastal currents, and river discharge. Numerical modeling of the dynamics of river plumes is very challenging, because the complete problem involves a wide range of vertical and horizontal scales. Proper simulations of river plume dynamics cannot be achieved without a realistic representation of the flow and salinity structure near the river mouth that controls the initial formation and propagation of the plume in the coastal ocean. In this study, an unstructured grid model was used for simulations of river plume dynamics allowing fine grid resolution in the river and in regions near the coast with a coarse grid in the far field of the river plume in the coastal ocean. In the vertical, fine fixed levels were used near the free surface, and coarse vertical levels were used over the continental shelf. The simulations have demonstrated the uniquely important role played by Coriolis acceleration. Without Coriolis acceleration, no trapped river plume can be formed no matter how favorable the ambient conditions might be. The simulation results show properties of the river plume and the characteristics of flow and salinity within the estuary; they are completely consistent with the physics of estuaries and coastal oceans.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Coastal environment
Grid systems
Rivers and streams
Three-dimensional models