Physical oceanographic investigation of Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays

By: , and 


  • The Publications Warehouse does not have links to digital versions of this publication at this time
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


This physical oceanographic study of the Massachusetts Bays (fig. 1) was designed to provide for the first time a bay-wide description of the circulation and mixing processes on a seasonal basis. Most of the measurements were conducted between April 1990 and June 1991 and consisted of moored observations to study the current flow patterns (fig. 2), hydrographic surveys to document the changes in water properties (fig. 3), high-resolution surveys of velocity and water properties to provide information on the spatial variability of the flow, drifter deployments to measure the currents, and acquisition of satellite images to provide a bay-wide picture of the surface temperature and its spatial variability. A longterm objective of the Massachusetts Bays program is to develop an understanding of the transport of water, dissolved substances and particles throughout the bays. Because horizontal and vertical transport is important to biological, chemical, and geological processes in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, this physical oceanographic study will have broad application and will improve the ability to manage and monitor the water and sediment quality of the Bays.

Key results are:

  • There is a marked seasonal variation in stratification in the bays, from well mixed conditions during the winter to strong stratification in the summertime. The stratification acts as a partial barrier to exchange between the surface waters and the deeper waters and causes the motion of the surface waters to be decoupled from the more sluggish flow of the deep waters.
  • During much of the year, there is weak but persistent counterclockwise flow around the bays, made up of southwesterly flow past Cape Ann, southward flow along the western shore, and outflow north of Race Point. The data suggest that this residual flow pattern reverses in fall. Fluctuations caused by wind and density variations are typically larger than the long-term mean.
  • With the exception of western Massachusetts Bay, flushing of the Bays is largely the result of the mean throughflow. Residence time estimates of the surface waters range from 20-45 days. The deeper water has a longer residence time, but its value is difficult to estimate. There is evidence that the deep waters in Stellwagen Basin are not renewed between the onset of stratification and the fall cooling period.
  • Current measurements made near the new outfall site in western Massachusetts Bay suggest that water and material discharged there are not swept away in a consistent direction by a well-defined steady current but are mixed and transported by a variety of processes, including the action of tides, winds, and river inflow. One-day particle excursions are typically less than 10 km. The outfall is apparently located in a region to the west of the basin-wide residual flow pattern.
  • Observations in western Massachusetts Bay, near the location of the future Boston sewage outfall, show that the surficial sediments are episodically resuspended from the seafloor during storms. The observations suggest onshore transport of suspended material during tranquil periods and episodic offshore and southerly alongshore transport of resuspended sediments during storms.
  • The spatial complexity of the flow in the Massachusetts Bays is typical of nearshore areas that have irregular coastal shorelines and topography and currents that are forced locally by wind and river runoff as well as by the flow in adjacent regions. Numerical models are providing a mechanism to interpret the complex spatial flow patterns that cannot be completely resolved by field observations and to investigate key physical processes that control the physics of water and particle transport.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Physical oceanographic investigation of Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays
Year Published 1992
Language English
Publisher The Massachusetts Environmental Trust
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 23 p.
Country United States
State Massachussetts
Other Geospatial Cape Cod Bay, Massachussetts Bay
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details