Spatiotemporal variation of Van der Burgh's coefficient in a salt plug estuary
Abstract. Salt water intrusion in estuaries is expected to become a serious global issue due to climate change. Van der Burgh's coefficient, K, is a good proxy for describing the relative contribution of tide-driven and gravitational (discharge-driven and density-driven) components of salt transport in estuaries. However, debate continues over the use of the K value for an estuary where K should be a constant, spatially varying, or time-independent factor for different river discharge conditions. In this study, we determined K during spring and neap tides in the dry (< 30 m−3 s−1) and wet (> 750 m−3 s−1) seasons in a salt plug estuary with an exponentially varying width and depth, to examine the relative contributions of tidal versus density-driven salt transport mechanisms. High-resolution salinity data were used to determine K. Discharge-driven gravitational circulation (K ∼ 0.8) was entirely dominant over tidal dispersion during spring and neap tides in the wet season, to the extent that salt transport upstream was effectively reduced, resulting in the estuary remaining in a relatively fresh state. In contrast, K increased gradually seaward (K ∼ 0.74) and landward (K ∼ 0.74) from the salt plug area (K ∼ 0.65) during the dry season, similar to an inverse and positive estuary, respectively. As a result, density-driven inverse gravitational circulation between the salt plug and the sea facilitates inverse estuarine circulation. On the other hand, positive estuarine circulation between the salt plug and the river arose due to density-driven positive gravitational circulation during the dry season, causing the upstream intrusion of high-salinity bottom water. Our results explicitly show that K varies spatially and depends on the river discharge. This result provides a better understanding of the distribution of hydrographic properties.