Nearshore circulation in a tropical fringing reef system

Soheila Taebi, Ryan Lowe, Charitha Pattiaratchi, Gregory Ivey, G. Symonds, R. Brinkman

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    The role of waves, tide, and wind on the circulation of a fringing reef system was investigated using data collected during a 6 week field experiment in a section of Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia. The high correlation observed between current velocities and wave height throughout the system revealed the dominant role wave breaking plays in driving the overall reef-lagoon circulation, whereas the modulation of the currents at tidal frequencies suggested that the wave-driven currents responded to tidal variations in the mean water level over the reef. The influence of the various forcing mechanisms on the current field was investigated for both high-and low-frequency bands. Wave breaking was found to be the dominant forcing mechanism for the low-frequency (subtidal) currents, with the subtidal flow pattern consisting of a cross-reef flow over the reef, alongshore flow in the lagoon, and water exiting back to the ocean through the main channel. The tides controlled the high-frequency current variability via two mechanisms: one associated with the ebb-flood cycle of the tides and the second associated with tidal modulations of the wave-driven currents. Wind-forcing and buoyancy effects were both found to be negligible in driving the circulation and flushing of the system during the observation period. Flushing time scale estimates varied from as low as 2 h to more than a day for the wide range of observed incident wave heights. The results suggest that the circulation of Ningaloo Reef will be strongly influenced by even a small mean sea level rise.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberC02016
    Number of pages15
    Issue numberC2
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

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