[en] advection-diffusion ; diagnostic ; adjoint modeling ; North Sea ; residence time
[en] The residence time measures the time spent by a water parcel or a pollutant in a given water body and is therefore a widely used concept in environmental studies. While many previous studies rely on severe hypotheses (assuming stationarity of the flow and/or neglecting diffusion) to evaluate the residence time, the paper introduces a general method for computing the residence time and/or the mean residence time without such simplifying hypotheses. The method is based on the resolution of an adjoint advection-diffusion problem and is therefore primarily meant to be used with numerical models. The method and its implications are first introduced using a simplified one-dimensional analytical model. The approach is then applied to the diagnostic of the three-dimensional circulation on the Northwest European Continental Shelf. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.