Patterns of flow and sedimentation in channels with variable tidal and fluvial influence: observations from coastal Georgia.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Zoe J Hughes1, Nick C Howes2, Ioannis Y Georgiou3 and Duncan FitzGerald1, (1)Boston University, Boston, MA, United States, (2)Shell, Houston, TX, United States, (3)University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA, United States
Significant differences exist between the sedimentology of fluvial and tidal channels. This is primarily the result of differences in the temporal and spatial patterns of the hydrodynamics, and, where the regimes overlap, complex interactions between the two. In this detailed study, we investigate flow and resulting sedimentation in six tidal meander bends with varying levels of fluvial influence. Tidal currents were recorded using a combination of continuous deployments and vessel-based synoptic measurements. Residual circulation patterns and estimates of tidal asymmetry were determined. A series of cores, taken along transects both parallel and perpendicular to the channel, were used to examine the spatial variation of mud and sand deposits.

We observed a separation of flow into ebb and flood pathways, creating a residual circulation and encouraging the growth of point bars. At our study sites, the majority of the channels were found to be ebb dominant. At several tidal sites, we identified regions of the channel where the flow remained close to zero throughout much of the tidal cycle. This occurred in sections of the channel that were primarily active during the flood tide. In these areas, settling of fine sediment was not limited to slack water periods as is common to most systems and, instead, could occur over longer periods. This translated to sandier sediments being observed in parts of the channel that were primarily active during the ebb tide, compared to muddier sediments where the channel only was active during flood tides.

In regions where there was a greater fluvial influence, flow reversal during flood tides was reduced, and the timing of slack water was altered. At the upstream limit of our observations, minimal flow reversal was observed during the tide and the current slowed to zero (slack) only once per tidal cycle (during the flood). Although water levels at this site indicated that the tidal wave was strongly flood dominated due to shallow water distortion effects (M2:M4 phase difference = 97 degrees), the superposition of fluvial flows led to the true transport being ebb dominated. In addition to differences in the levels of mud and sand deposition, the length of period during which settling of fine sediment occurs may impact vertical accumulation rates in the channel.