Cullera Bay is an example of a multi-source polluted coastal environment. The water quality in the bay is highly affected by pressure from major agricultural and industrial activities in the river basin. Fresh water is taken from the river and later returned, loaded with pesticides and fertilizers. Partially treated wastewater from riverbank towns and industries is discharged into the lower reaches of the river. This mechanism contributes to river pollution. The dramatic increase in Cullera's population during the summer tourist season and the limited capacity of the local water treatment plant also make it difficult to dispose of domestic wastewater, some of which is discharged untreated into the river or directly into the sea through a marine outfall. This freshwater input from the Júcar River and the marine outfall produces a highly polluted estuarine plume in the coastal region (with significant salinity gradients and complex spatial patterns), which is highly influenced by the hydrodynamics of the bay. Because of the discharge from the Júcar River, the sewage from the marine outfall and the particular geomorphological features of Cullera Bay, this plume may play a significant role in defining and supporting different aspects of the socioeconomic environment in neighboring areas, especially those related to water quality. However, the mean water quality in the bay does not depend only on the surface circulation pattern but also on the overall marine circulation in the water body, where the local bathymetry has more relative influence. Therefore, it is important to have the tools and capabilities needed to monitor and characterize the actual pollutant dispersion drivers (wind and hydrodynamics) to assess their influence at local and regional levels. This paper presents the characterization of the wind field and circulation pattern in Cullera Bay using data acquired during seven field campaigns. The analysis shows that there is strong seasonal behavior in the wind field, ranging from daily breeze patterns to persistent offshore winds. Although the wind field varies greatly throughout the year, the overall pattern mainly consists of daily breezes. However, the hydrodynamic field has proved to be very complex and, with a few exceptions, poorly correlated with the wind-field pattern. This poor correlation may be due to a nonhomogeneous wind field in Cullera Bay caused by a nearby mountainous barrier. Despite the complexity of the hydrodynamic field in each campaign, the overall analysis of the nearshore current pattern shows a strong “boundary condition” influence that mainly follows the isobaths rather than the wind field. The influence of the topography on the wind and currents may have significant implications for quantifying the relative importance of pollutant sources that harm the quality of the water in Cullera Bay.
Near shore circulation