Storm-driven across-shelf oceanic flows into coastal waters

Sam Jones, Mark Inall, Marie Porter, Jennifer Graham, Finlo Cottier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


The North Atlantic Ocean and northwest European shelf experience intense low-pressure systems during the winter months. The effect of strong winds on shelf circulation and water properties is poorly understood as observations during these episodes are rare, and key flow pathways have been poorly resolved by models up to now. We compare the behaviour of a cross-shelf current in a quiescent period in late summer, with the same current sampled during a stormy period in midwinter, using drogued drifters. Concurrently, high-resolution time series of current speed and salinity from a coastal mooring are analysed. A Lagrangian analysis of modelled particle tracks is used to supplement the observations. Current speeds at 70 m during the summer transit are 10-20 cm s -1, whereas on-shelf flow reaches 60 cm s -1 during the winter storm. The onset of high across-shelf flow is identified in the coastal mooring time series, both as an increase in coastal current speed and as an abrupt increase in salinity from 34.50 to 34.85, which lags the current by 8 d. We interpret this as the wind-driven advection of outer-shelf (near-oceanic) water towards the coastline, which represents a significant change from the coastal water pathways which typically feed the inner shelf. The modelled particle analysis supports this interpretation: particles which terminate in coastal waters are recruited locally during the late summer, but recruitment switches to the outer shelf during the winter storm. We estimate that during intense storm periods, onshelf transport may be up to 0.48 Sv, but this is near the upper limit of transport based on the multi-year time series of coastal current and salinity. The likelihood of storms capable of producing these effects is much higher during positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) winters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-403
Number of pages15
JournalOcean Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes

Cite this