Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Mark E. Luther


Climate, ENSO, Estuary, Subtidal circulation, Wavelet analysis


This research provides insight into changes in volumetric flushing of the Tampa Bay estuary caused by synoptic scale wind events. The two main studies of this dissertation involve 1) using wavelet analysis to investigate the link between the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the frequency and strength of volumetric flushing driven by synoptic variability and 2) using a multi-decadal model simulation to examine how extratropical/winter storms and hurricanes affect the overall flushing rates for Tampa Bay, FL.

In the first study, two analyses are performed on 55 years of observational data to investigate the effect of multiple small wind events on estuarine flushing. First I use subtidal observed water level as a proxy for mean tidal height to estimate the rate of volumetric bay outflow. Second, I use wavelet analysis on sea level and wind data to isolate the synoptic sea level and surface wind variance. For both analyses the long-term monthly climatology is removed to focus on the volumetric and wavelet variance anomalies. The overall correlation between the Oceanic Niño index and volumetric anomalies is small (r2=0.097) due to the seasonal dependence on the ENSO response. The mean monthly climatology between the synoptic wavelet variance of elevation and axial winds have similar seasonal behavior. During the winter, El Niño (La Niña) increases (decreases) the synoptic variability, but decreases (increases) it during the summer. The difference in winter El Niño/La Niña wavelet variances is about 20% of the climatological value. ENSO can swing the synoptic flushing of the bay by 0.22 bay volumes per month. These changes in circulation associated with synoptic variability have the potential to impact mixing and transport within the bay.

In the second study, volumetric changes from large scale weather events are investigated using a numerical circulation model simulation (1975-2006) to find the cumulative impact of flushing on the bay by extreme events. The strong wind speeds, duration of high winds and wind direction during these events all affect the amount of water flushed in and out of the estuary. Normalized volume anomalies are largest when wind components blow up/down the estuary in the NE/SW direction. Wind induced normalized flushing rates for all 10 extratropical/winter storms range from 12% to 40% and from 14% to 40% for all 10 hurricanes. All storms discussed in this study caused winds greater than 15 m s-1 (~30 knots). The direction of the winds had an impact on the flushing rates during these extreme events. Storm9 (February 1998) and Hurricane Gabrielle (September 2001) experienced the smallest total volume changes (14% and 13%). Both storms experienced weak axial and co-axial winds causing volume changes to be small. The Storm of the Century (March 1993) and Hurricane Frances (September 2004) saw the largest total volume changes of 40%. They both had strong winds blowing in the NE direction. Hurricane Frances had two wind peaks and lingered in the area for approximately 48 hours, so both strength and duration of winds played a large role in the total volume change. Total inflow and outflow rates per year show that there is year to year variability of flushing in Tampa Bay.

Included in

Oceanography Commons