Effects of a stratified tidal flow on the morphodynamics

Saulo Meirelles

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

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This thesis examines the effects of the stratified tidal flow on the morphodynamics of the Dutch inner shelf. The south portion of the Dutch inner shelf is strongly influenced by the Rhine River ROFI (Region Of Freshwater Influence), which is generated by the discharge from the Rhine River through the Rotterdam waterways. Under stratified conditions, the three-dimensional structure of the tidal currents develops a strong cross-shore shear so that the bottom and surface currents become 180deg out of phase. The sheared flow created by stratification operates in the inner shelf and nearshore zones so that the flow asymmetries imparted by stratification are expected to impact the morphodynamics, however the role of the stratified tidal flow on the morphodynamics along the Dutch coast has been often neglected or oversimplified. In this context, this thesis aims to provide new insights on how the stratified tidal flow dictates the morphodynamics outside the surfzone.

In the south portion of the Dutch coast is located the Sand Engine, a 21.5 million m3 experimental mega-nourishment that was built in 2011. This intervention created a discontinuity in the previous straight sandy coastline, altering the local hydrodynamics in a region that is influenced by the Rhine River ROFI. Estimates of the centrifugal acceleration directly after construction of the Sand Engine showed that its curved shape impacted the cross-shore flow, suggesting that the Sand Engine might have played a role in controlling the cross-shore exchange currents during the first three years after the completion of the nourishment. Presently, the curvature effects are minute owned to the morphodynamic evolution of the Sand Engine. Observations document the development of strong baroclinic-induced cross-shore exchange currents dictated by the intrusion of the river plume fronts as well as the classic tidal straining which are found to extend further into the nearshore (from 12 to 6 m depth), otherwise believed to be a mixed zone.

In the inner shelf, shoaling waves are as effective in mobilizing sediment as the other co-existing flows. The influence of stratification on the hydrodynamics is translated into near-bed shear velocity in the layer immediately above the sea floor. The tide-induced bed shear stress is able to periodically agitate the bed near the peaks of flood and ebb cycles mostly during spring tides. Results from observations suggested that, under stratified conditions, relatively high values of bed shear stress are sustained for a prolonged period of time. The results also revealed that the non-tidal flow, such as the wind-induced flow, plays a role in controlling the bed mobility. However, wave-induced bed shear stress in general does not set sediment in motion during fair weather conditions and thus the stirring role of the waves is mostly important during storms.

The co-exiting near-bed flows in the inner shelf are responsible for moulding the seafloor so that the resulting types of bedforms can reveal important information on the hydrodynamic forcings that dictate the sediment mobility. Observations showed that 56% of the ripples in the Dutch inner shelf are classified as current ripples. Wave ripples occur only during storm conditions, comprising 3%. The frequency of occurrence of transitional bed types composes 23% and poorly developed ripples is found to develop mostly during neap tides making up 15% of the observed bed types. The feedback of the different types of bedforms on the overlying boundary layer plays a fundamental role in the dynamics of the sediment load.

The morphological response of the bed to the stratified and non-stratified tidal flow leads to differentiations of the ripple migration as well as the sediment transport modes (bedload and suspended load). The bedforms at the measurement site are strongly controlled by tides so that their behavior exhibits not only a spring-neap signature, but also a distinct semi-diurnal fluctuation. Under the influence of the Rhine ROFI, the bedform mean dimensions (ripple height and wavelength) are reduced, indicating that their development is affected by the stratified tidal flow. In the absence of (ambient) stratification, the tidal current ripples are more developed, attaining relatively larger dimensions. The net alongshore bedload transport is south-directed, whereas the net alongshore suspended load is north-directed regardless of stratification. Moreover, the net alongshore bedload transport is higher during stratified conditions but the net alongshore suspended transport is smaller. Regarding the cross-shore sediment transport, the findings show that ambient stratification promotes onshore-directed bed- and suspended load net transport. The gross suspended transport rates are 10 times greater than the gross bedload transport rates.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Stive, M.J.F., Supervisor
  • Reniers, A.J.H.M., Supervisor
  • Pietrzak, J.D., Supervisor
Award date7 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • stratification
  • bedforms
  • sediment transport


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