Mixing dynamics at river confluences governed by intermodal behaviour

A. N. Sukhodolov, O. O. Shumilova, G. S. Constantinescu, Q. W. Lewis, B. L. Rhoads

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The extent to which flows mix at confluences is pivotal for determining spatial patterns of water quality and biodiversity. Because mixing processes are complex, predicting rates and characteristic scales of mixing is difficult. Here we introduce a theory for confluence mixing dynamics of shallow flows in which the mixing process is controlled by the switching between two modes of behaviour—one similar to a wake behind an obstacle and the other similar to a mixing layer between two parallel flows. Dye visualizations of mixing in field-based controlled experiments agree with theoretical predictions and support transitional behaviour between the two mixing modes. According to our theoretical framework, the mixing interface can grow rapidly in wake mode, when large vortices are shed from a zone of stagnant flow within the confluence, but lateral shear between incoming flows is negligible. This rapid growth occurs even though flow curvature and shallowness inhibit growth through advective and turbulent lateral exchange of momentum and through bed friction. Our findings provide insight into the importance of different modalities of flow structure in controlling mixing at river confluences, thereby contributing to practical knowledge on the role of confluences in dispersal of contaminants in river systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-93
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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