Sediment dynamics within the intertidal floodplain of the lower Amazon River
Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:15 PM
Tidal influence extends ~800 kilometers upstream of the Amazon River mouth, producing semidiurnal oscillations in water elevation and slowing or reversing the flow of the world’s largest river. This tidally influenced reach, known as the tidal river, is flanked by an expansive intertidal floodplain, and includes confluences with two large tributaries, the Xingu and Tapajós. The relative magnitude of the seasonal and tidal signals changes along the length of the tidal river, yielding diverse floodplain environments that span a range of seasonal and tidal influence. Near the upstream limit of tides, natural levees isolate the river from the floodplain during low to moderate flows, while in the lower tidal river, natural levees are absent and river-floodplain exchange is dominated by the tides rather than seasonal variation in river stage. This difference between fluvial and tidal systems strongly affects the nature of sediment exchange between the channel and floodplain, including frequency, duration, and depth of inundation. Here we present data on the impact of this fluvial-tidal continuum on sedimentary processes in the floodplain and resultant depositional signatures. Changes in levee prominence, grain size, and sediment accumulation combine to produce the distinct morphologies of floodplain lakes, intertidal backswamps, and intertidal flats. In addition to sediment accumulation on the periodically exposed floodplain, Amazon River sediment accumulates within the drowned tributary confluences of the Xingu and Tapajós Rivers. Here seasonal and tidal changes in water temperature, discharge, and suspended-sediment concentration drive barotropic and baroclinic flows that transport Amazon River sediment into tributary basins. These findings help to constrain the fate of sediment within the ungauged Amazon tidal river, and will help in understanding the response of the lower Amazon River to changes in accommodation space associated with rising sea level, and changes in sediment load due to deforestation and damming.