Continental shelf response to freshwater input from rivers: A three-dimensional model study and applications

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


The Princeton Ocean three-dimensional model was adapted for the study of the continental shelf circulation patterns that are connected with the discharge of river runoff. The Southeast U.S. Continental Shelf (SAB) was chosen as the study area and the transport and fate of riverine low-salinity water through the shelf were examined. The study focused on springtime conditions, when river runoff is maximum and northeastward mean wind stress promotes offshore removal of riverine waters and materials.The freshwater input (buoyancy), wind stress and tides were studied as the important mechanisms in forcing shelf circulation. Process studies on buoyancy forcing revealed that the development and evolution of a river plume depends on the amount of the discharge, the topography of the receiving basin and the amount of available mixing. In the presence of wind forcing, the river plume was generally advected in a downwind direction, while the plume's strength and the magnitude and direction of the wind stress determined the transport of the low-salinity waters across the shelf.A realistic numerical simulation took place and the model results were verified against observations. The study supported the hypothesis of maximum offshore removal of riverine waters during spring. Trajectories of water particles released at the mouth of the major SAB rivers and along the coast illustrated the pathway of removal and the rates of offshore transport were computed.


Physical Oceanography

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