Modeled and Observed Transitions Between Rip Currents and Alongshore Flows

Monday, 15 December 2014
Melissa Moulton1, Steve Elgar1, John C Warner2 and Britt Raubenheimer1, (1)WHOI, Woods Hole, MA, United States, (2)US Geological Survey, Falmouth, MA, United States
Predictions of rip currents, alongshore currents, and the temporal transitions between these circulation patterns are important for swimmer safety and for estimating the transport of sediments, biota, and pollutants in the nearshore. Here, field observations are combined with hydrodynamic modeling to determine the dominant processes that lead rip currents to turn on and off with changing waves, bathymetry, and tidal elevation. Waves, currents, mean sea levels, and bathymetry were measured near and within five shore-perpendicular channels (on average 2-m deep, 30-m wide) that were dredged with the propellers of a landing craft at different times on a long straight Atlantic Ocean beach near Duck, NC in summer 2012. The circulation was measured for a range of incident wave conditions and channel sizes, and included rapid transitions between strong (0.5 to 1 m/s) rip current jets flowing offshore through the channels and alongshore currents flowing across the channels with no rip currents. Meandering alongshore currents (alongshore currents combined with an offshore jet at the downstream edge of the channel) also were observed. Circulation patterns near and within idealized rip channels simulated with COAWST (a three-dimensional phase-averaged model that couples ROMS and SWAN) are compared with the observations. In addition, the model is used to investigate the hydrodynamic response to a range of wave conditions (angle, height, period) and bathymetries (channel width, depth, and length; tidal elevations; shape of sandbar or terrace). Rip current speeds are largest for the deepest perturbations, and decrease as incident wave angles become more oblique. For obliquely incident waves, the rip currents are shifted in the direction of the alongshore flow, with an increasing shift for increasing alongshore current speed or increasing bathymetric perturbation depth.