The generation of residual circulation in a tidally energetic estuary with constant longitudinal salinity gradient and parabolic cross section is examined by means of a two-dimensional cross-sectional numerical model, neglecting river runoff and Stokes drift. It is shown how the longitudinal and lateral residual circulation can be decomposed into contributions from various processes such as tidal straining circulation, gravitational circulation, advectively driven circulation, and horizontal mixing circulation. The sensitivity of the residual circulation and its components from various processes to changes in forcing is investigated by varying the Simpson number (nondimensional longitudinal buoyancy gradient) and the unsteadiness parameter (nondimensional tidal frequency), as well as the bed roughness and the width of the estuary. For relatively weak salinity gradient forcing, the tidal straining circulation dominates the residual exchange circulation in support of classical estuarine circulation (up-estuary flow near the bed and down-estuary flow near the surface). The strength of the longitudinal estuarine circulation clearly increases with increased salinity gradient forcing. However, when the Simpson number exceeds 0.15, the relative contributions of both gravitational circulation and advectively driven circulation to estuarine circulation increase substantially.
Lateral residual circulation is relatively weak for small Simpson numbers and becomes flood oriented (divergent flow near the bed and convergent flow near the surface) for larger Simpson numbers because of increasing contributions from gravitational and advectively driven circulation. Increasing the unsteadiness number leads to decreased longitudinal and lateral residual circulation. Although changes in bed roughness result in relatively small changes in residual circulation, results are sensitive to the width of the estuary, mainly because of changes in residual exchange circulation driven by tidal straining.