Modeling the interannual variability in Maipo and Rapel river plumes off central Chile

Resumen: River plumes have a direct influence on coastal environments, impacting coastal planktonic and benthic communities, including fishery resources. In general, the main drivers of river plume dynamics are the river discharge and the alongshore wind stress, whereas the tides and topography play a secondary role. In central Chile, rivers flowing into the eastern Pacific have a relatively short path on land, with a high slope and a mixed snow–rain regime. This study aims to understand the interannual variability in the plumes of the Maipo and Rapel rivers in the coastal/shelf area off central Chile and their influence on local ocean dynamics. We used the Coastal and Regional Ocean Community (CROCO) model, with 1 km horizontal resolution and 20 sigma levels, to simulate the ocean dynamics for the period 2003–2011. The results show that the plume’s area coverage and coastal ocean salinity are strongly correlated with the river discharges. The predominant northeastward winds control the plumes’ orientation toward the northwest. However, episodes of southeastward winds in winter can reverse the plumes’ direction, promoting their attachment to the coast and southward transport. Results also show a salification trend linked to the severe droughts hitting central Chile during the studied period. This salification determines a change in local dynamics which could be more frequent in future scenarios of climate change with a significant lack of rain and river discharges along central Chile.

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