• Mathias K. Roth
  • Jamie MacMahan
  • Ad Reniers
  • Tamay M. Özgökmen
  • Kate Woodall
  • Brian Haus

Motivated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Surfzone and Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment obtained Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) Eulerian and GPS-drifter based Lagrangian “surface” (<1 m) flow observations in the northern Gulf of Mexico to describe the influence of small-scale river plumes on surface material transport pathways in the nearshore. Lagrangian paths are qualitatively similar to surface pathlines derived from non-traditional, near-surface ADCP velocities, but both differ significantly from depth-averaged subsurface pathlines. Near-surface currents are linearly correlated with wind velocities (r =0.76 in the alongshore and r =0.85 in the cross-shore) at the 95% confidence level, and are 4–7 times larger than theoretical estimates of wind and wave-driven surface flow in an un-stratified water column. Differences in near-surface flow are attributed to the presence of a buoyant river plume forced by winds from passing extratropical storms. Plume boundary fronts induce a horizontal velocity gradient where drifters deployed outside of the plume in oceanic water routinely converge, slow, and are re-directed. When the plume flows west parallel to the beach, the seaward plume boundary front acts as a coastal barrier that prevents 100% of oceanic drifters from beaching within 27 km of the inlet. As a result, small-scale, wind-driven river plumes in the northern Gulf of Mexico act as coastal barriers that prevent offshore surface pollution from washing ashore west of river inlets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-153
Number of pages12
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Volume137
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

    Research areas

  • Coastal barriers, Dispersion, Nearshore, River Plume, Surface drifters, Surface material transport

ID: 26113110