Longshore currents near Cape Hatteras, NC
Smallegan, Stephanie M.
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As part of a beach erosion field experiment conducted at Cape Hatteras, NC in February 2010, this study focuses on quantifying longshore currents, which are the basic mechanism that drives longshore sediment transport. Using video imagery, the longshore currents in view of a video camera are estimated with the Optical Current Meter technique and the nearshore morphology is estimated by analyzing breaking wave patterns in standard deviation images. During a Nor‟easter storm event on February 12 and 13, 2010, the video longshore currents are compared to in situ data and it is found that the currents are most affected by the angle of incidence of incoming waves, increasing in magnitude as the angle becomes more oblique due to a larger component of radiation stress forcing in the longshore direction. The magnitude of the radiation stress forcing, which is at least an order of magnitude larger than the surface wind stress, increases as wave height increases or tide level decreases, which causes more wave breaking to occur. The normalized standard deviation images show wave breaking occurring at an inshore and offshore location, corresponding closely to the locations of an inner and outer bar indicated in survey data. Using two profiles from the survey data, one profile that intersects a trough and one that intersects a terrace, the video currents are also compared to currents simulated in one-dimension using the circulation module, SHORECIRC, and the wave module, REF/DIF-S, as part of the NearCoM system. Although the simulated currents greatly underpredict the video currents when the flow is only driven by radiation stresses, a mean water level difference between the two profiles creates a longshore pressure gradient. Superimposing a pressure gradient forcing term into the longshore momentum balance that assumes an equilibrium state of the flow, the magnitude of the simulated currents are much larger than the magnitude of the video estimated currents. Using analytical solutions of simplified forms of the mass and momentum equations to determine the effects of accelerations on the flow, it is seen that the acceleration term greatly affects the flow due to the relatively large mean water level difference that acts over a relatively short distance. Therefore, the pressure gradient forcing term is modified to include the effects of accelerations. By including the two-dimensional effects of the acceleration in the one-dimensional model through the modified pressure gradient, the quasi two-dimensional model simulated currents are very similar to the video estimated currents, indicating that the currents observed in the video may be pressure gradient driven.