Time scales in Galveston Bay: An unsteady estuary

Matt Rayson, E.S. Gross, R.D. Hetland, O.B. Fringer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    28 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Estuarine time scales including the turnover, particle e-folding time, the age (calculated with a passive tracer), and residence time (calculated with Lagrangian particles) were computed using a three-dimensional hydrodynamic model of Galveston Bay, a low-flow, partially stratified estuary. Time scales were computed during a time period when river flow varied by several orders of magnitude and all time scales therefore exhibited significant temporal variability because of the unsteadiness of the system. The spatial distributions of age and residence time were qualitatively similar and increased from 15 days in a shipping channel to >45 days in the upper estuary. Volume-averaged age and residence time decreased during high-flow conditions. Bulk time scales, including the freshwater and salinity turnover times, were far more variable due to the changing river discharge and salt flux through the estuary mouth. A criterion for calculating a suitable averaging time is discussed to satisfy a steady state assumption and to estimate a more representative bulk time scale. When scaled with a freshwater advective time, all time scales were approximately equal to the advective time scale during high-flow conditions and many times higher during low-flow conditions. The mean age, Lagrangian residence, and flushing times exhibited a relationship that was weakly dependent on the freshwater advective time scale demonstrating predictability even in an unsteady, realistic estuary.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2268-2285
    JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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