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Mechanisms of sediment flux and turbidity maintenance in the Delaware Estuary


Source: Journal of Geophysical Research- Oceans

An observational study was conducted to identify mechanisms of suspended sediment flux and turbidity maintenance in the Delaware River estuary. From March through October 2005, instrumented moorings were deployed to obtain continuous measurements of currents and suspended sediment concentration at sites along the estuarine channel and on flanking subtidal flats. Data time series were analyzed to determine the relative influence of nontidal advection and tidal pumping on residual fluxes of sediment. Results indicate that the estuarine channel is a strongly advective transport environment with residual sediment fluxes driven mostly by gravitational circulation. Tidal pumping is a contributing process of residual sediment flux in the channel near the estuarine null point and turbidity maximum, though the magnitude and direction of pumping vary with river flow and resident sediment inventory in the upper estuary. Sediment pumping in the channel is driven by tidal asymmetries in velocity and particle settling and perhaps by tidal variations in internal mixing in the stratified lower estuary. In contrast to the estuarine channel, residual sediment fluxes over the subtidal flats are weak and dominated by tidal pumping. Landward advective fluxes of sediment in bottom waters of the lower estuarine channel are strongest during neap tides; during large spring tides sediment is mixed high in the water column and the advective flux reverses to seaward under the residual surface outflow. Despite these transient seaward fluxes, the estuary has an enormous capacity to buffer extreme freshwater discharges and suppress export of suspended sediment to Delaware Bay.

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School of Marine Science & Policy

Advancing the understanding, stewardship, and conservation of estuarine, coastal, and ocean environments.

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Department of Geological Sciences

Discovering how geological processes have operated over various time scales to create and influence the planet’s surface environments.

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