Where and why do creeks evolve on fringing and bare tidal flats?

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Although tidal flats appear homogeneous from a distance, morphological variations are found on various spatial scales. These are driven by physical and/or biological processes. In this paper, we consider the creeks that are present on fringing tidal flats and which are orientated approximately perpendicular to the main channel. To explain why these creeks occur, we analysed high-resolution aerial pictures and yearly measured LiDAR data of the Ems-Dollard and Western Scheldt estuaries, located in the Netherlands. We selected nine bare fringing tidal flats, with and without creeks in both estuaries. Subsequently, we related the flat shape to the creek occurrence by evaluating cross-sections of tidal flats from the two estuaries. Finally, we studied how the flat shape affects the cross-shore flow velocity with a 1D numerical model to link creek occurrence to tidal flow. The results show highest ebb velocities, the largest velocity gradients and the largest erosion potential at the transition area between the lower and the upper flat. The milder the slope of the upper flat and the shorter the transition zone, the larger the flow velocities. Based on the data analysis and numerical model outcomes, we conclude that the conditions are favourable for creeks on convex-up intertidal flats with a sharp transition between the upper part and lower part of the flat and that they are predominantly found in this transition zone. We finally argue that these tidal creeks are not only a consequence of the tidal flat profile, but also affect the (equilibrium) profile of the tidal flat.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108182
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Erosion potential
  • Estuaries
  • Intertidal
  • Morphological features


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