Observations of the frontal region of a buoyant river plume using an autonomous underwater vehicle

Peter Rogowski, Eric Terrill, Jialin Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


To characterize the transitional region from the near-field to far-field of a river plume entering coastal waters, we conducted four surveys using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to target the outflow of the New River Inlet, North Carolina, during maximum ebb tide. The utilization of a mobile sensor to synoptically observe current velocity data in tandem with natural river plume tracers (e.g., colored dissolved organic matter, salinity) was essential in understanding the mechanisms driving the observed circulation and mixing patterns within these waters. We find that this region is regularly impacted by two primary processes: (1) the interaction of an old dredged channel plume with the main discharge and (2) the recirculation of the discharge plume by an eddy that persistently forms between the old channel and main discharge location. Wind-driven processes in the nearshore can enhance the interaction of these two plumes resulting in unstable regions where mixing of the merged plume with the receiving waters is accelerated. We also conduct comparisons between AUV velocity observations from two surveys and their corresponding velocity outputs from a parallelized quasi-3-D model. We conclude that the ability to observe the estuarine outflow transitional region at near-synoptic temporal scales and resolutions discussed in this paper is key in providing the mechanisms driving local circulation which is essential for proper parameterization of high-resolution numerical coastal models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7549-7567
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Nov

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'Observations of the frontal region of a buoyant river plume using an autonomous underwater vehicle'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this