Meteorological influence on summertime baroclinic exchange in the Straits of Mackinac

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Michigan Tech Research Institute


Straits flows can impose a complex hydrodynamic environment with high seasonal variability and significant impacts to nearby water bodies. In the Straits of Mackinac, exchange flow between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron influences water quality and ecological processes, as well as the transport of any contaminants released in or near the straits. Although previous work has shown that a Helmholtz mode is responsible for the barotropic flow oscillations in the straits, baroclinic effects impose opposite surface and subsurface flows during the summer months. In this study, we use observations of currents and water temperatures from instruments deployed in the straits to validate a hydrodynamic model of the combined Lake Michigan-Huron system and then use the model results to investigate the baroclinic flow and determine the forcing mechanisms that drive exchange flow in the Straits of Mackinac. Analysis shows that although the Helmholtz mode drives a 3 day oscillation throughout the year, thermal stratification in the summer establishes a bidirectional flow that is governed by a shift from regional-scale to local-scale meteorological conditions. These results detail the seasonal variability in the straits, including the barotropic and baroclinic contributions to exchange flow and the influence of local atmospheric forcing on transport through the Straits of Mackinac.

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Published 2017. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans