The Ou River, a medium-sized river in southeastern China, is selected to study the lateral flow response to rapidly varied river discharge, i.e., peak river discharge (PRD). A three-dimensional model based on the Finite-Volume Community Ocean Model is validated by in situ measurements from 15 June to 16 July 2005. PRD, which considers the extra buoyancy and longitudinal momentum in a short time, rebuilds the stratification and lateral flow. PRD, compared with low-discharge, generally makes stratification stronger and lateral flow weaker. PRD mainly rebuilds lateral flow by changing lateral advection, lateral Coriolis, and lateral-barotropic pressure gradient terms. After PRD, the salinity recovery time is longer than that of the flow because the impact on buoyancy lasts longer than that on longitudinal flow. Longitudinal flow is mostly affected by the momentum transferred during PRD; therefore, the recovery time is close to the flooding duration. However, the lateral flow is affected by the buoyancy, and its recovery time is generally longer than the flooding duration. The lateral flow recovery time depends on transect width, flow velocity and the variation caused by PRD. PRD occurs widely in global small-/medium-sized river estuaries, and the result of this work can be extended to other estuaries.
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