Spatial and temporal variability of dense shelf water cascades along the Rottnest continental shelf in southwest Australia

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Abstract

Along the majority of Australian shallow coastal regions, summer evaporation increases the salinity of shallow waters, and subsequently in autumn/winter, the nearshore waters become cooler due to heat loss. This results in the formation of horizontal density gradients with density increasing toward the coast that generates gravity currents known as dense shelf water cascades (DSWCs) flowing offshore along the sea bed. DSWCs play important role in ecological and biogeochemical processes in Australian waters through the transport of dissolved and suspended materials offshore. In this study a numerical ocean circulation model of Rottnest continental shelf, validated using simultaneous ocean glider and mooring data, indicated that the passage of cold fronts associated with winter storms resulted in rapid heat loss through evaporative cooling. These conditions resulted in enhancement of the DSWCs due to modifications of the cross-shelf density gradient and wind effects. Specifically, onshore (offshore) directed winds resulted in an enhancement (inhibition) of DSWCs due to downwelling (vertical mixing). Consequently, the largest DSWC events occurred during the cold fronts when atmospheric temperatures reinforced density gradients and onshore winds promoted downwelling that enhanced DSWCs. Advection of DSWCs was also strongly influenced by the wind conditions, with significantly more transport occurring along-shelf compared to cross-shelf.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Marine Science and Engineering
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

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