Time Evolution of Estuarine Turbidity Maxima in Well-Mixed, Tidally Dominated Estuaries: The Role of Availability- and Erosion-Limited Conditions

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Abstract

Using an idealized width-averaged process-based model, the role of a mud pool on the bed and time-varying river discharge on the trapping of fine sediment is systematically investigated. For this purpose, a dynamically and physically motivated description of erodibility is presented, which relates the amount of sediment on the bed to the suspended sediment concentration (SSC). We can distinguish between two states: in the availability-limited state, the SSC is limited by the amount of erodible sediment at the bed. Over time, under constant forcing conditions, the estuary evolves to morphodynamic equilibrium. In the erosion-limited state, there is an abundant amount of sediment at the bed so that sediment pickup occurs at the maximum possible rate. The SSC is then limited by the local hydrodynamic conditions. In this state, the estuary keeps importing sediment, forming an erodible bottom pool that grows in time. These two states can be used to explain the response of an estuary to changing river discharge. Under availability-limited conditions, periods of high river discharge push estuarine turbidity maxima (ETMs) downstream, while drier periods allow ETMs to move upstream. However, when the estuary is in an erosion-limited state during low river discharge, a bottom pool is formed. When the discharge then increases, it takes time to deplete this pool, so that an ETM located over a bottom pool moves with a significant time lag relative to changes in the river discharge. Good qualitative agreement is found between model results and observations in the Scheldt Estuary of surface SSC using a representative year of discharge conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1629-1650
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Volume48
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Dynamics
  • Estuaries
  • Mass fluxes/transport
  • Ocean
  • Runoff
  • Seasonal effects

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