The intertidal hydraulics of tide-dominated reef platforms Article

cited authors

  • Lowe, RJ; Leon, AS; Symonds, G; Falter, JL; Gruber, R

fiu authors


  • A 2 week field experiment investigated the hydrodynamics of a strongly tidally forced tropical intertidal reef platform in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia, where the spring tidal range exceeds 8 m. At this site, the flat and wide (∼1.4 km) reef platform is located slightly above mean sea level, such that during low tide the offshore water level can fall 4 m below the platform. While the reef always remained submerged over each tidal cycle, there were dramatic asymmetries in both the water levels and velocities on the reef, i.e., the flood duration lasted only ∼2 h versus ∼10 h for the ebb. These dynamics were investigated using a one-dimensional numerical model (SWASH) to solve the nonlinear shallow water equations with rapid (sub to supercritical) flow transitions. The numerical model revealed that as water drains off the reef, a critical flow point was established near the reef edge prior to the water discharging down the steep forereef. Despite this hydraulic control, bottom friction on the reef was still found to make a far greater contribution to elevating water levels on the reef platform and keeping it submerged over each tidal cycle. Finally, a simple analytical model more broadly shows how water levels on intertidal reef platforms functionally depend on properties of reef morphology, bottom roughness, and tidal conditions, revealing a set of parameters (a reef draining time-scale and friction parameter) that can be used to quantify how the water depth will fall on a reef during ebb tide.

publication date

  • July 1, 2015

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • 4845

end page

  • 4868


  • 120


  • 7