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Aerial observations and numerical simulations confirm density-driven streamwise vortices at a river confluence
  • Duguay Duguay,
  • Pascale Biron,
  • Jay Lacey
Duguay Duguay
Concordia University, Concordia University

Corresponding Author:duguay.jason@gmail.com

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Pascale Biron
Concordia University, Concordia University
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Jay Lacey
Université de Sherbrooke, Université de Sherbrooke
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When rivers collide, complex three-dimensional coherent flow structures are generated along the confluence’s mixing interface. These structures play important roles in mixing streamborne pollutants and suspended sediment and have considerable bearing on the morphology and habitat quality of the postconfluent reach. A particular structure of interest - streamwise orientated vortices (SOVs) - were first detected in numerical simulations to form in pairs, one on each side of the mixing interface rotating in the opposite sense of the other. Since, it has proven difficult to detect SOVs in situ with conventional pointwise velocimetry instrumentation. Despite the lack of clear evidence to confirm their existence, SOVs are nevertheless considered important drivers of mixing and sediment transport processes at confluences. Additionally, their causal mechanisms are also not fully known which hinders a complete conceptual understanding of these processes. To address these gaps, we analyze observations of strongly coherent SOVs filmed in aerial drone video of a mesoscale confluence with a stark turbidity contrast between its tributaries. Eddy-resolved modeling demonstrates the SOVs’ dynamics could only be accurately reproduced when a density difference (Δρ) was imposed between the tributaries (Δρ = 0.5 kg/m$^{3}$) – providing compelling evidence the observed SOVs are indeed a density-driven class of SOV. This work confirms that SOVs exist, expands understanding of their generative processes and highlights the important role of small density gradients (e.g., less than 0.5 kg/m3) on river confluence hydrodynamics.