Impact of trends in river discharge and ocean tides on water level dynamics in the Pearl River Delta

Yu Cao, Wei Zhang*, Yuliang Zhu, Xiaomei Ji, Yanwen Xu, Yao Wu, A.J.F. Hoitink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The spectrum of tidal and subtidal water level variations in river deltas responds to river discharge variation, ocean tides, and human activities of many kinds. It remains a contemporary challenge to identify the main sources of changes in tidal dynamics in deltas, because of nonlinear interactions between tides and the river discharge in a changing setting. Understanding the main forcing factors controlling the evolution of mean water levels and the associated amplitudes and phases of tidal constituents can help to understand the causes of floods and the occurrence of low flows hindering navigation. Here, a nonstationary harmonic analysis tool (NS_TIDE) is applied to hydrological data from 14 stations in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) spanning the period 1961–2012. The water levels and main tidal constituent properties are decomposed into contributions of external forcing by river discharges and ocean tides, providing insight into the nonstationary tidal-fluvial processes. Significant temporal trends in mean water levels and tidal properties are observed in the PRD. Results indicate that there is spatial variability in the response of mean water levels and tidal properties to river discharge variation in the delta. The abrupt changes in bathymetry in the delta due to intensive sand excavation are likely responsible for the observed spatial variations in tidal response, which reduce the flood-dominant tidal asymmetry in this area.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103634
JournalCoastal Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Nonstationary harmonic analysis
  • River discharge
  • Tidal amplitudes
  • Tidal forcing
  • Water levels

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