The time-space behavior of thermohaline properties of the water masses in the Gulf of Nicoya, a tropical estuary in the Costa Rican Pacific coast, was studied by sampling monthly from April 1992 to April 1993. The saline field has a seasonal maximum during April, a month before the maximum temperature is observed. Minimun values were observed during October and November, in the rainy season. A defined surface saline front is located towards the east of Negritos Islands; it is produced by the interaction of freshwater from the Tarcoles River and the oceanic waters that enter through the occidental coast of the gulf. The vertical distribution of temperature and salinity indicates a gulf whose internal area is highly stratified in the rainy season, and much less stratified, or even well mixed in the dry season. The outer area of the Gulf is stratified throughout the year.
Keywords: estuary, water masses, thermohaline characteristics, stratification