Decadal morphological evolution of the mouth zone of the Yangtze Estuary in response to human interventions

Chunyan Zhu, Leicheng Guo, Bas van Maren, Bo Tian, Xianye Wang, Qing He, Zheng Bing Wang

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8 Citations (Scopus)
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The morphology of the Yangtze Estuary has changed substantially at decadal time scales in response to natural processes, local human interference and reduced sediment supply. Due to its high sediment load, the morphodynamic response time of the estuary is short, providing a valuable semi-natural system to evaluate large-scale estuarine morphodynamic responses to interference. Previous studies primarily addressed local morphologic changes within the estuary, but since an overall sediment balance is missing, it remains unclear whether the estuary as a whole has shifted from sedimentation to erosion in response to reduced riverine sediment supply (e.g. resulting from construction of the Three Gorges Dam). In this paper we examine the morphological changes of two large shoals in the mouth zone (i.e. the Hengsha flat and the Jiuduan shoal) using bathymetric data collected between 1953 and 2016 and a series of satellite images. We observe that the two shoals accreted at different rates before 2010 but reverted to erosion thereafter. Human activities such as dredging and dumping contribute to erosion, masking the impacts of sediment source reduction. The effects of local human intervention (such as the construction of a navigation channel) are instantaneous and are likely to have already resulted in new dynamic equilibrium conditions. The morphodynamic response time of the mouth zone to riverine sediment decrease is further suggested to be >30 years (starting from the mid-1980s). Accounting for the different adaptation time scales of various human activities is essential when interpreting morphodynamic changes in large-scale estuaries and deltas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2319-2332
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • channel–shoal system
  • human activities
  • morphology
  • response time
  • Yangtze Estuary

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