Sediment Flux and Salt-wedge Dynamics in a Shallow, Stratified Estuary
Simans, Kevin J. “Sediment Flux and Salt-wedge Dynamics in a Shallow, Stratified Estuary”, MS, Boston College, 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:108210.
An observational study was conducted from 2013 to 2016 to investigate suspended-sediment transport processes in the stratified Connecticut River estuary. Time-series measurements of velocity and suspended-sediment concentration from the upper estuary were analyzed to determine the relative importance of different processes driving sediment flux under highly-variable river discharge. Results indicate that under high discharge the salt intrusion is forced towards the mouth causing large seaward sediment fluxes throughout the water column. Seaward fluxes are dominated by mean advection, with some contribution due to tidal pumping. Under low discharge the salt intrusion extends to the upper estuary, advancing as a bottom salinity front during each flood tide. Stratification and strong velocity shear during the ebb tide cause the upper and lower water column to become dynamically decoupled. Sediment flux near the bed is landward throughout the tidal cycle despite the net seaward depth-integrated flux, and is almost fully attributed to the mean estuarine circulation. River discharge is the primary factor affecting the magnitude and direction of sediment flux because of its high variability and direct connection to the salt-wedge dynamics. A generalized three-phase conceptual model describes suspended-sediment transport in shallow, stratified estuaries with low trapping efficiencies. First, fine sediment bypasses the estuary during high river flows and exports to the coastal ocean where a portion of this sediment is temporarily deposited outside the mouth. Second, during low discharge offshore mud deposits are reworked by wave- and tidally-driven currents and some sediment is advected back into the estuary with the advancing salt intrusion that transports sediment landward. Third, spatial salinity gradients facilitate sediment transport from the main channel to channel margins, marshes and off-river coves where it is retained and deposited long-term, as demonstrated in prior studies. This re-introduction and trapping of recycled sediment under low-discharge conditions can have important implications for pollutant transport, shoaling of navigation channels and harbors, and salt marsh accretion in the face of rising sea levels.