Variability of in situ sediment strength and pore pressure behavior of tidal estuary surface sediments

Abstract

Tidal estuaries feature spatially and temporally varying sediment dynamics and characteristics. Particularly, the variability of geotechnical sediment parameters is still poorly understood, limiting the prediction of long-term sediment stability and dynamics. This paper presents results from an in situ investigation of surficial sediments (≤50 cm) in a tidal estuary in New Hampshire (USA), using a portable free fall penetrometer. The aim is to investigate variations in sediment strength and pore pressure behavior with regard to sediment type and seabed morphology. The study also provides a detailed analysis of high velocity impact pore pressure data to derive information about sediment type and permeability. The penetrometer was deployed 227 times, and the findings are correlated to 78 sediment samples. Differences in sediment strength and type were found when transitioning from tidal flats to the deeper channels. Finer-grained sediments located predominantly on the tidal flats appeared well consolidated with noticeable and spatially consistent sediment strength (reflected in an estimate of quasi-static bearing capacity qsbcmax ~10 kPa). Sediments with higher sand content (>75%) showed more variations in strength relating to differences in gradation, and likely represent loose and poorly consolidated sands (qsbcmax ~10–55 kPa). The rate at which the recorded excess pore pressures approached equilibrium after penetration was classified and related to sediment type. The data indicate that the development of excess pore pressures upon impact and during penetration may provide additional insight into the nature and layering of bed material, such as identifying a desiccated or over-consolidated dilative surficial layer. In summary, with varying sediment grain size distributions, bulk densities and morphology, sediment strength and pore pressure behavior can vary significantly within a tidal estuary.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge Virginia Tech’s Department for Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences for funding. Funding for TCL was provided by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under contract to the CCOM/Joint Hydrographic Center number NA10NOS4000073. We would like to thank Ali Albatal from Virginia Tech for assessing this paper, Jon Hunt for efforts in collecting the sonar data, sediment samples and diver-obtained sediment cores, Ben Sweeney, Griffin Sperry and Anna Simpson for conducting sediment grain size analyses, and Shawn Shellito for diving assistance in collecting core samples. Sediments were processed for grain size in the Sedimentology Lab at UNH headed by Joel Johnson, and for bulk density and porosity at the sedimentology laboratory headed by Larry Ward at UNH’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. Also acknowledged are constructive comments from an anonymous reviewer, and the journal editors.

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Correspondence to Nina Stark.

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Lucking, G., Stark, N., Lippmann, T. et al. Variability of in situ sediment strength and pore pressure behavior of tidal estuary surface sediments. Geo-Mar Lett 37, 441–456 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00367-017-0494-6

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Keywords

  • Pore Pressure
  • Sandy Sediment
  • Excess Pore Pressure
  • Surficial Sediment
  • Cone Penetration Test