Characterizing the Composition of Sand and Mud Suspensions in Coastal and Estuarine Environments Using Combined Optical and Acoustic Measurements

Stuart G. Pearson, Romaric Verney, Bram C. van Prooijen, Duc Tran, Erik C. M. Hendriks, Matthias Jacquet, Zheng Bing Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
142 Downloads (Pure)


Quantifying and characterizing suspended sediment is essential to successful monitoring and management of estuaries and coastal environments. To quantify suspended sediment, optical and acoustic backscatter instruments are often used. Optical backscatter systems are more sensitive to mud particles (<63 μm) and flocs, whereas acoustic backscatter systems are more responsive to larger sand grains (>63 μm). It is thus challenging to estimate the relative proportion of sand or mud in environments where both types of sediment are present. The suspended sediment concentration measured by these devices depends on the composition of that sediment, thus it is also difficult to confidently measure concentration with a single instrument when the composition varies and extensive calibration is not possible. The objective of this paper is to develop a methodology for characterizing the relative proportions of sand and mud in mixed sediment suspensions by comparing the response of simultaneous optical and acoustic measurements. We derive a sediment composition index (SCI) that is used to directly predict the relative fraction of sand in suspension. Here, we verify the theoretical response of these optical and acoustic instruments in laboratory experiments and successfully apply this approach to field measurements from Ameland ebb-tidal delta (the Netherlands). Increasing sand content decreases SCI, which was verified in laboratory experiments. A reduction in SCI appears during more energetic conditions when sand resuspension is expected. Conversely, the SCI increases in calmer conditions when sand settles out, leaving behind mud. This approach provides crucial knowledge of suspended sediment composition in mixed sediment environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JC017354
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • suspended sediment composition
  • optical backscatter
  • acoustic backscatter
  • coastal sediment dynamics
  • sand
  • fine sediment


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the Composition of Sand and Mud Suspensions in Coastal and Estuarine Environments Using Combined Optical and Acoustic Measurements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this