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Components and tidal modulation of the wave field in a semi-enclosed shallow bay

The wave fields of coastal bays are comprised of waves generated by far-off storms that enter the bay to combine with waves generated locally by winds inside the bay and regionally outside the bay. In any given location, the resultant wave field varies spatially and temporally, and affects coastal features, such as beaches in estuaries and bays (BEBs). However, wave fields in enclosed bays with tidal shoals are poorly studied, limiting the efficacy of coastal protection and restoration projects in these systems, a critical focus in light of ongoing sea level rise. Here we present observations of the wave field in Tomales Bay, a 20-km-long, narrow, semi-enclosed embayment on the wave-dominated coast of Northern California (USA) with a spring-tide range of 2.5 m. We deployed pressure sensors near several beaches along the linear axis of the bay. Low-frequency waves (4∗10−2−2.5∗10−1 Hz or 4–25-s period) were not observed further than 4 km of the mouth, delineating the “outer bay” region, where remotely generated swell and regionally generated wind waves could dominate. The wave spectrum of the landward “inner bay” was dominated by fetch-limited waves generated within the bay with frequency ≥2.5∗10−1Hz. The energy of both ocean waves and locally generated wind waves across all sites were controlled by the tide, but the former by changes in attenuation and the latter likely by modulation of wave generation. Wave energies were low at low tide and high at high tide, but high-frequency wind wave energy was increased during ebb tides while lower-frequency swell energy was reduced during ebb tides, suggesting different mechanisms of tidal influences. Thus, in addition to fluctuations in winds and the presence of ocean waves, tides exert a strong control on the wave energy spectra at coastal features in mesotidal regions. In general, events that may be impactful for BEB morphology are expected to occur when waves due to high winds or high-swell event arrive during high-tide periods. However, no such events were observed during our study and questions remain as to how rarely such events occur across the bay.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Springer Science and Business Media LLC
© The Author(s) 2023. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.