Modeling Nonlinear Tidal Evolution in an Energetic Estuary

TitleModeling Nonlinear Tidal Evolution in an Energetic Estuary
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsCook, S, Lippmann, TC, Irish, JD
JournalOcean Modelling
Date PublishedApril

Three-dimensional numerical simulations of a tidally dominated estuary within the Gulf of Maine are performed using the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) and validated with observations of sea surface elevation and velocity time series obtained between 1975 and 2016. The model is forced at the ocean boundary with tidal constituents (M2, S2, N2, O1, K1), a time series of observed subtidal elevations and discharge from seven rivers that drain into the estuary. Harmonic analysis is used to determine the tidal dissipation characteristics and generation of overtides within the system. Amplitude decay and phase shift of the dominant semidiurnal (M2) tidal component shows good agreement with observations throughout the main channel of the Piscataqua River and over the channels and mudflats of the Great Bay. The model simulates harmonic growth of the overtides across the spectrum, and indicates a spatial evolution of the tide consistent with a shoaling wave that evolves from a skewed elevation profile with ebb dominance in the lower parts of the estuary, to a more asymmetric, pitched-forward shape consistent with flood dominance. The M4 constituent has spatial variation qualitatively similar to the observations but has magnitudes that are under-predicted in the complex bathymetric region of the Piscataqua River where much of the M2 tidal dissipation occurs. The M6 tidal constituent agrees well with the observations throughout the estuary suggesting that frictional effects on harmonic growth are well modeled. Root-mean-square model-data differences in velocities (~0.05 m/s) and sea surface elevation (~0.1 m) agree to within about 10% of the tidal amplitudes. Differences between model simulations with and without subtidal oscillations in the estuary are small, suggesting that interactions between the tide and other low frequency (subtidal) mean flows are weak and can be ignored when considering tidal dynamics. Including average fresh water discharge in the model does not affect the behavior of the tidal flows, but can generate high frequency baroclinic velocities potentially important to mixing within the estuary.

Refereed DesignationRefereed