Internal Bore Evolution across the Shelf near Pt. Sal, California, Interpreted as a Gravity Current

M. S. Spydell, S. H. Suanda, D. J. Grimes, J. Becherer, J. M. McSweeney, C. Chickade, M. Moulton, J. Thomson, J. Lerczak, J. Barth, J. Macmahan, J. Colosi, R. Romeiser, A. F. Waterhouse, J. Calantoni, Falk Feddersen

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Off the central California coast near Pt. Sal, a large-amplitude internal bore was observed for 20 h over 10 km cross shore, or 100–10-m water depth (D), and 30 km along coast by remote sensing, 39 in situ moorings, ship surveys, and drifters. The bore is associated with steep isotherm displacements representing a significant fraction of D. Observations were used to estimate bore arrival time tB, thickness h, and bore and nonbore (ambient) temperature difference DT, leading to reduced gravity g0. Bore speeds c, estimated from mapped tB, varied from 0.25 to 0.1ms21 from D 5 50 to 10 m. The h varied from 5 to 35m, generally decreased with D, and varied regionally along isobath. The bore DT varied from 0.758 to 2.158C. Bore evolution was interpreted from the perspective of a two-layer gravity current. Gravity current speeds U, estimated from the local bore h and g0, compared well to observed bore speeds throughout its cross-shore propagation. Linear internal wave speeds based on various stratification estimates result in larger errors. On average bore thickness h 5 D/2, with regional variation, suggesting energy saturation. From 50- to 10-m depths, observed bore speeds compared well to saturated gravity current speeds and energetics that depend only on water depth and shelf-wide mean g0. This suggests that this internal bore is the internal wave analog to a saturated surfzone surface gravity bore. Along-coast variations in prebore stratification explain variations in bore properties. Near Pt. Sal, bore Doppler shifting by barotropic currents is observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3629-3650
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Coastal flows
  • Continental shelf/slope
  • Density currents
  • Internal waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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