The Effect of Low Energy Turbulence in Estuary Margins on Fine Sediment Settling

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Rachel M Allen, Lissa Jillian MacVean, Ian Tse, Laura Jin Mazzaro, Mark T Stacey and Evan A Variano, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States
Sediment dynamics in estuaries and near shore regions control the growth or erosion of the bed and fringing wetlands, determine the spread of sediment-associated contaminants, and limit the light availability for primary productivity through turbidity. In estuaries such as San Francisco Bay, this sediment is often cohesive, and can flocculate. Changes to the composition of the sediment and waters, the suspended sediment concentration, and the turbulence can all affect the flocculation of suspended sediment. In turn, flocculation controls the particle diameter, settling velocity, density, and particle inertia. These sediment properties drive the turbulent diffusivity, which balances with the settling velocity to impact the vertical distribution of sediment in the water column. The vertical profile strongly affects how sediment is transported through the estuary by lateral flow.

Turbulence may also impact settling velocity in non-cohesive particles. In turbulence, dense particles may get trapped in convergent flow regions, thus particles are more likely to get swept along the downward side of a turbulent eddy than the upward side, resulting in enhanced settling velocities.

We isolated the impacts of turbulence level, particle size and type, and suspended sediment concentration on particle settling velocities using uniform grain size particles in homogeneous isotropic turbulence. Controlling the turbulence in a well-defined turbulence tank, we used Two Acoustic Doppler Velocimeters, separated vertically, to measure turbulent velocities (w') and suspended sediment concentrations (C), which yield condition dependent settling velocities (ws), via equation 1.

Lab characterization of particle settling velocities help to validate the method for measuring settling velocities in the field, and will serve as a foundation for an extensive field experiment in San Francisco Bay. Characterizing the velocity enhancement relative to the Stokes number, the Rouse number, and the turbulent Reynolds number will enable more mechanistic predictions of sediment transport in low energy environments like protected estuary margins.