Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 175–189 | Cite as

Coupled sedimentological and geotechnical data analysis of surficial sediment layer characteristics in a tidal estuary

  • Cagdas BiliciEmail author
  • Nina Stark
  • Carl T. Friedrichs
  • Grace M. Massey


In situ geotechnical testing of surficial sediment layers in areas of active sediment dynamics can provide essential information about physical and geotechnical variations of sediment properties, which have the potential to contribute to engineering activities in subaqueous environments. Portable free fall penetrometers have been used for the rapid geotechnical investigation of subaqueous sediment layers. However, data analysis methods and interpretation are still hampered by a lack of understanding of surficial sediment layer mechanics. Field measurements were conducted at four different locations along the York River Estuary in Virginia, USA. A portable free fall penetrometer was deployed 45 times, and complementary sediment samples were collected. The collected samples were tested and analyzed to obtain vertical profiles of bulk densities and grain size distribution through the upper seabed, X-ray images of sediment texture, and the erodibility of the sediment surfaces. The data were investigated regarding the impact of sedimentological characteristics on the in situ geotechnical behavior of surface sediments. With regard to processes and forces governing the resistance against the penetrating object at the surface of the seabed, the role of soil drag and soil buoyancy was explored. The results indicated that soil buoyancy has a limited influence on the sediment resistance, but soil drag seemed to have a significant impact, especially in the case of loose sand or soft mud top layers. The erodibility of surficial sediments appeared inversely proportional to the geotechnical sediment strength, providing empirical insight into a possible correlation of sediment strength and erodibility. In conclusion, a coupled analysis of geotechnical and sedimentological properties of surficial layers allowed insights into a potential transition from fluid-like to soil behavior of the uppermost seabed surface layers, and potential relations between sedimentological characteristics and in situ geotechnical properties.



The sediment samples were collected in collaboration with Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) through SERDP project MR-2409. The authors would like to acknowledge the technical and logistical support by Ali Albatal, Muhammad Bilal Mumtaz, Bernardo Castellanos (Virginia Tech), Danielle Tarpley, Kelsey Fall (VIMS). The authors would also like to thank the editor and an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments benefitting this article.

Funding information

This study and the field experiments at the York River Estuary were funded by the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and through SERDP project MR02409 (YR2) and the National Science Foundation (OCE 1434938 and OCE 1459708).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Civil and Environmental EngineeringVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceGloucester PointUSA

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