The hyperturbid state of the water column in estuaries and rivers: The importance of hindered settling

Yoeri M. Dijkstra*, Henk M. Schuttelaars, Johan C. Winterwerp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Over the last few decades, some estuaries have undergone a transition to a hyperturbid state, characterised by suspended sediment concentrations of several grammes per litre averaged over the water column. To improve our understanding of this transition and of naturally hyperturbid estuaries, we systematically identify the processes allowing for high suspended sediment concentrations using a water column (1DV) model. Under a range of realistic forcing conditions, the state of the water column can be characterised by one of two equilibrium states. The first is an erosion-limited state, in which there still is sediment available for erosion at the bed. We find that this state only occurs with relatively low concentrations. The second is a supply-limited state, in which all erodable sediment is in suspension. The concentration in this state depends entirely on the amount of sediment in the system and can potentially be very high. We identify the conditions under which the state of the water column can jump from a low to a high concentration and identify hysteresis in the transition between the two states. The mechanism responsible for this hysteresis is hindered settling. It thus follows that hyperturbidity is only possible in a supply-limited state. From this observation we derive a necessary condition for an estuarine system to make the transition from low turbidity to hyperturbidity in a 1DV context. This is an important step towards understanding why some estuaries are hyperturbid and assessing the risk that particular estuaries may become hyperturbid in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-389
Number of pages13
JournalOcean Dynamics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Estuary
  • High concentration
  • Hindered settling
  • Hyperturbid
  • Regime shift
  • Suspended sediment


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