Dynamics of the Wave-Driven Circulation in the Lee of Nearshore Reefs

Renan F. da Silva, Jeff E. Hansen, Ryan J. Lowe, Dirk P. Rijnsdorp, Mark L. Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nearshore rocky reefs with scales of order 10–100 m are common along the world's coastline and often shape wave-driven hydrodynamics and shoreline morphology in their lee. The interaction of waves with these reefs generally results in either two or four-cell mean circulation systems (2CC and 4CC, respectively), with diverging flows behind the reefs and at the shoreline in the 2CC case and flows that diverge in the lee and converge at the shoreline in the 4CC case. By applying a phase-resolving wave-flow model to conduct a detailed analysis of mean momentum balances for waves interacting with nearshore reefs, we develop an understanding of the drivers of 2CC and 4CC flow dynamics and how they vary for different reef geometries and wave and water level conditions. The 2CC or 4CC patterns were primarily driven by alongshore pressure gradients toward the exposed (nonreef fronted) or reef-fronted beach. These alongshore pressure gradients were dependent on the cross-shore setup dynamics governed by the balance between pressure (i.e., related to the setup) and radiation stress gradients, and mean bottom stresses exerted on the water column. If shoreline wave setup in the lee of the reef was less than the exposed beach, a 4CC pattern developed with convergent flow at the shoreline in the lee of the reef; otherwise, a 2CC emerged with divergent flow at the shoreline. Across the parameter space investigated, reef roughness, distance to the shoreline, and beach slope were the three parameters most likely to change the flow patterns between 2CC and 4CC.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2022JC019013
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


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