Sediment Disposals in Estuarine Channels Alter the Eco-Morphology of Intertidal Flats

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Abstract

Dredging of navigation channels in estuaries affects estuarine morphology and ecosystems. In the Western Scheldt, a two-channel estuary in the Netherlands, the navigation channel is deepened and the sediment is relocated to other parts of the estuary. We analyzed the response of an intertidal flat to sediment disposals in its adjacent channel. Decades of high-frequency monitoring data from the intertidal flat show a shift from erosion toward accretion and reveal a sequence of cascading eco-morphological consequences. We document significant morphological changes not only at the disposal sites, but also at the nearby intertidal flats. Disposals influence channel bank migration, driving changes in the evolution of the intertidal flat hydrodynamics, morphology, and grain sizes. The analyzed disposals related to an expansion of the channel bank, an increase in bed level of the intertidal flat, a decrease in flow velocities on this higher elevated flat, and locally a decrease in grain sizes. These changes in turn affect intertidal flat benthic communities (increased in quantity in this case) and the evolution of the adjacent salt marsh (retreated less or even expanded in this case). The shifts in evolution may occur years after dredged disposal begins, especially in zones of the flats farther away from the disposal locations. The consequences of sediment disposals that we identify stress the urgency of managing such interventions with integrated strategies on a system scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019JF005432
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Volume125
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • ecology
  • estuaries
  • intertidal flats
  • morphology
  • sediment disposals
  • sediment management

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