Tributary bays of the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR) are suffering from environmental problems, e.g., eutrophication and algae bloom, which could be related to the limited water exchange capacity of the tributary bays. To understand and quantify the water exchange capacity of a tributary bay, this study investigated the water residence time (RT) in a typical tributary bay of TGR, i.e., the Zhuyi Bay (ZB), using numerical simulation and the adjoint method to obtain the RT. The results show that RT of ZB with an annual mean of 16.7 days increases from the bay mouth to the bay top where the maximum can reach 50 days. There is a significant seasonal variation in RT, with higher RT (average 20 days) in spring and autumn and lower RT (average < 5 days) in the summer. The sensitivity experiments show that the TGR water level regulation has a strong influence on RT. The increase in the water level could increase RT of ZB to some extent. Density currents induced by the temperature difference between the mainstream and tributaries play an important role in the water exchange of ZB, while the impacts of the river discharges and winds on RT are insignificant.
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