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Ocean Dynamics

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Sediment transport, Estuaries -- Environmental conditions, Estuaries -- Effects of tides on


Over decades and centuries, the mean depth of estuaries changes due to sea-level rise, land subsidence, infilling, and dredging projects. These processes produce changes in relative roughness (friction) and mixing, resulting in fundamental changes in the characteristics of the horizontal (velocity) and vertical tides (sea surface elevation) and the dynamics of sediment trapping. To investigate such changes, a 2DV model is developed. The model equations consist of the width-averaged shallow water equations and a sediment balance equation. Together with the condition of morphodynamic equilibrium, these equations are solved analytically by making a regular expansion of the various physical variables in a small parameter. Using these analytic solutions, we are able to gain insight into the fundamental physical processes resulting in sediment trapping in an estuary by studying various forcings separately. As a case study, we consider the Ems estuary. Between 1980 and 2005, successive deepening of the Ems estuary has significantly altered the tidal and sediment dynamics. The tidal range and the surface sediment concentration has increased and the position of the turbidity zone has shifted into the freshwater zone. The model is used to determine the causes of these historical changes. It is found that the increase of the tidal amplitude toward the end of the embayment is the combined effect of the deepening of the estuary and a 37% and 50% reduction in the vertical eddy viscosity and stress parameter, respectively. The physical mechanism resulting in the trapping of sediment, the number of trapping regions, and their sensitivity to grain size are explained by careful analysis of the various contributions of the residual sediment transport. It is found that sediment is trapped in the estuary by a delicate balance between the M 2 transport and the residual transport for fine sediment (\emphws=0.2 mm s −1) and the residual, M 2 and M 4 transports for coarser sediment (\emphws=2 mm s − 1). The upstream movement of the estuarine turbidity maximum into the freshwater zone in 2005 is mainly the result of changes in tidal asymmetry. Moreover, the difference between the sediment distribution for different grain sizes in the same year can be attributed to changes in the temporal settling lag.


This is the publisher's final PDF. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. (c) 2010 Chernetsky, A.S.; Schuttelaars, H.M.; Talke, S.A. This article is published with open access at

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