Intertidal shoals are vital components of estuaries. Tides, waves, and sediment supply shape the profile of estuarine shoals. Ensuring their sustainability requires an understanding of how such systems will react to sea level rise (SLR). In contrast to mudflats, sandy shoals have drawn limited attention in research. Inspired by a channel-shoal system in the Western Scheldt Estuary (Netherlands), this research investigates governing processes of the long-term morphodynamic evolution of intertidal estuarine sandy shoals across different timescales. We apply a high-resolution process-based numerical model (Delft3D) to generate a channel-shoal system in equilibrium and expose the equilibrium profile to variations in wave forcing and SLR. Combined tidal action and wave forcing initiate ridge formation at the seaward shoal edge, which slowly propagates landward until a linear equilibrium profile develops within 200 years. Model simulations in which forcing conditions have been varied to reproduce observations show that the bed is most dynamic near the channel-shoal interface. A decrease/increase in wave forcing causes the formation/erosion of small tidal levees at the shoal edge, which shows good resemblance to observed features. The profile recovers when regular wave forcing applies again. Sandy shoals accrete in response to SLR with a long (decades) bed-level adaptation lag eventually leading to intertidal area loss. This lag depends on the forcing conditions and is lowest near the channel and gradually increases landward. Adding mud makes the shoal more resilient to SLR. Our study suggests that processes near the channel-shoal interface are crucial to understanding the long-term morphodynamic development of sandy shoals.
- Intertidal sandy shoals
- Long-term estuarine morphodynamics
- Process-based modeling
- Sea-level rise
- Tidal levees