Sediment Trapping in Estuaries

Hans Burchard, Henk M. Schuttelaars, David K. Ralston

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Estuarine turbidity maxima (ETMs) are generated by a large suite of hydrodynamic and sediment dynamic processes, leading to longitudinal convergence of cross-sectionally integrated and tidally averaged transport of cohesive and noncohesive suspended particulate matter (SPM). The relative importance of these processes for SPM trapping varies substantially among estuaries depending on topography, fluvial and tidal forcing, and SPM composition. The high-frequency dynamics of ETMs are constrained by interactions with the low-frequency dynamics of the bottom pool of easily erodible sediments. Here, we use a transport decomposition to present processes that lead to convergent SPM transport, and review trapping mechanisms that lead to ETMs at the landward limit of the salt intrusion, in the freshwater zone, at topographic transitions, and by lateral processes within the cross section. We use model simulations of example estuaries to demonstrate the complex concurrence of ETM formation mechanisms. We also discuss how changes in SPM trapping mechanisms, often caused by direct human interference, can lead to the generation of hyperturbid estuaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-395
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • bottom sediment pool
  • estuarine turbidity maxima
  • hyperturbid estuaries
  • salt intrusion limit
  • suspended particulate matter
  • tidal estuaries
  • topographic trapping


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