Aggregate Settling Velocities in San Francisco Estuary Margins
Abstract:One way that humans impact aquatic ecosystems is by adding nutrients and contaminants, which can propagate up the food web and cause blooms and die-offs, respectively. Often, these chemicals are attached to fine sediments, and thus where sediments go, so do these anthropogenic influences. Vertical motion of sediments is important for sinking and burial, and also for indirect effects on horizontal transport. The dynamics of sinking sediment (often in aggregates) are complex, thus we need field data to test and validate existing models.
San Francisco Bay is well studied and is often used as a test case for new measurement and model techniques (Barnard et al. 2013). Settling velocities for aggregates vary between 4*10-5 to 1.6*10-2 m/s along the estuary backbone (Manning and Schoellhamer 2013). Model results from South San Francisco Bay shoals suggest two populations of settling particles, one fast (ws of 9 to 5.8*10-4 m/s) and one slow (ws of < 1*10-7 to 1.4*10-5 m/s) (Brand et al. 2015).
While the open waters of San Francisco Bay and other estuaries are well studied and modeled, sediment and contaminants often originate from the margin regions, and the margins remain poorly characterized. We conducted a 24 hour field experiment in a channel slough of South San Francisco Bay, and measured settling velocity, turbulence and flow, and suspended sediment concentration. At this margin location, we found average settling velocities of 4-5*10-5 m/s, and saw settling velocities decrease with decreasing suspended sediment concentration. These results are consistent with, though at the low end of, those seen along the estuary center, and they suggest that the two population model that has been successful along the shoals may also apply in the margins.