Tidal impacts on the subtidal flow division at the main bifurcation in the Yangtze River Delta

Wei Zhang*, Haochuan Feng, A.J.F. Hoitink, Yuliang Zhu, Fei Gong, Jinhai Zheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Flow division at bifurcations in the Yangtze Estuary has received ample attention, since it may control the pathways of terrestrial sediments over downstream river branches including the 12.5 m Deepwater Navigation channel. While some efforts have been made to interpret flow division at the bifurcations of the Yangtze Estuary, little attention has been paid to the role of tides. Flow division at estuarine bifurcations is made complicated by tides that propagate from the outlet of the tidal channels into the delta. To quantify the tidal influence on the distribution of river discharge, and more generally, to understand the mechanisms governing the subtidal flow division at the tidally affected bifurcation in the Yangtze River Delta, a two-dimensional hydrodynamic model is employed. In this model, the landward boundary is chosen beyond the tidal limit, where the tidal motion has faded out entirely. The seaward boundary is chosen such that the river discharge does not influence the water level. Subtidal discharges are decomposed using the method of factor separation, to distinguish between the effects of tides, river discharge and river-tide interactions on the subtidal flow division. Results indicate that tides modify the river discharge distribution over distributary channels in the Yangtze River Delta, particularly in the dry season. A significant difference in the subtidal flow division during spring tide and neap tide shows that the tidally averaged flow division over the distributaries in the delta greatly depends on tidal amplitude. By varying the river discharge at the landward boundary and amplitudes and phases of the principal tidal constituents at the seaward boundary of the established model, the sensitivities of the subtidal flow division to the river discharge and tidal amplitude variation were investigated in detail. Generally, the tidal impacts on the subtidal flow division are around 12% to 22%, with river discharge varying from 30,000 m3s-1 to 20,000 m3s-1. This effect on the flow distribution can even overwhelm the effects induced by river discharge based on geometry only, when the flow discharge is lowest. Furthermore, the fortnightly tidal cycle plays an important role in enhancing the inequality of the subtidal flow division caused by the M2 tidal component solely at the tidal bifurcation in the Yangtze River Delta during low flow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-314
JournalEstuarine Coastal and Shelf Science
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Bifurcation
  • Hydrodynamic model
  • River-tide interaction
  • Tidal impacts
  • Yangtze River Delta

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