Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 65, Issue 11, pp 1477–1488 | Cite as

Suspended-sediment dynamics in the tidal reach of a San Francisco Bay tributary

  • Gregory G. ShellenbargerEmail author
  • Maureen A. Downing-Kunz
  • David H. Schoellhamer
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Physics of Estuaries and Coastal Seas 2014 in Porto de Galinhas, PE, Brazil, 19-23 October 2014


To better understand suspended-sediment transport in a tidal slough adjacent to a large wetland restoration project, we deployed continuously measuring temperature, salinity, depth, turbidity, and velocity sensors in 2010 at a near-bottom location in Alviso Slough (Alviso, California, USA). Alviso Slough is the downstream reach of the Guadalupe River and flows into the far southern end of San Francisco Bay. River flow is influenced by the Mediterranean climate, with high flows (∼90 m3 s−1) correlated to episodic winter storms and low base flow (∼0.85 m3 s−1) during the summer. Storms and associated runoff have a large influence on sediment flux for brief periods, but the annual peak sediment concentrations in the slough, which occur in April and May, are similar to the rest of this part of the bay and are not directly related to peak discharge events. Strong spring tides promote a large upstream sediment flux as a front associated with the passage of a salt wedge during flood tide. Neap tides do not have flood-directed fronts, but a front seen sometimes during ebb tide appears to be associated with the breakdown of stratification in the slough. During neap tides, stratification likely suppresses sediment transport during weaker flood and ebb tides. The slough is flood dominant during spring tides, and ebb dominant during neap tides. Extreme events in landward (salt wedge) and bayward (rainfall events) suspended-sediment flux account for 5.0 % of the total sediment flux in the slough and only 0.55 % of the samples. The remaining 95 % of the total sediment flux is due to tidal transport, with an imbalance in the daily tidal transport producing net landward flux. Overall, net sediment transport during this study was landward indicating that sediment in the sloughs may not be flushed to the bay and are available for sedimentation in the adjacent marshes and ponds.


Estuaries Tides Tidal slough Sediment flux Stratification 



The authors gratefully thank Paul Buchanan, Robert Castagna, Amber Powell, Chris Silva, Kurt Weidich, Brooks Weisser, and Rob Wilson for the field work and data management on this project. The manuscript has been improved though discussions with Scott Wright. Funding for this work has come from the US Army Corps of Engineers, California State Coastal Conservancy, the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay, and the US Geological Survey Priority Ecosystems Science Program. The Santa Clara Valley Water District supported the sediment measurements at the Guadalupe River station. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.


  1. Burchard H, Baumert H (1998) The formation of estuarine turbidity maxima due to density effects in the salt wedge. A hydrodynamic process study. J Phys Oceanogr 28:309–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown JM, Davies AG (2010) Flood/ebb tidal asymmetry in a shallow sandy estuary and the impact on net sand transport. Geophys J Roy Astron Soc 114:431–439Google Scholar
  3. Cheng RT, Gartner JW (1985) Harmonic analysis of tides and tidal currents in South San Francisco Bay, California. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 21:57–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Downing-Kunz MA, Schoellhamer DH (2013) Seasonal variations in suspended-sediment dynamics in the tidal reach of an estuarine tributary. Mar Geol 345:314–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Edwards TK, Glysson GD (1999) Field methods for measurement of fluvial sediment. Techniques of Water-Resources Investigations of the US. Geol Surv 3-C2:89Google Scholar
  6. Friedrichs CT, Aubrey DG (1988) Non-linear tidal distortion in shallow well-mixed estuaries: a synthesis. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 27:521–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ganju NK, Schoellhamer DH, Warner JC, Barad MF, Schladow SG (2004) Tidal oscillation of sediment between a river and a bay: a conceptual model. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 60:81–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Geyer WR, Farmer DM (1989) Tide-induced variation of the dynamics of a salt wedge estuary. J Phys Oceanogr 19:1060–1072CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Geyer WR, Ralston DK (2015) Estuarine frontogenesis. J Phys Oceanogr 45:546–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Green MO, Hancock NJ (2012) Sediment transport through a tidal creek. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 109:116–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Goals Project (1999) Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals. A report of habitat recommendations prepared by the San Francisco Bay Area Wetlands Ecosystem Goals Project. First Reprint. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/S.F. Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco, Calif/Oakland, CalifGoogle Scholar
  12. Kitheka J, Ongwenyl GS, Mavuti KM (2002) Dynamics of suspended sediment exchange and transport in a degraded mangrove creek in Kenya. Ambio 31:580–587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kitheka J, Obiero M, Nthenge P (2005) River discharge, sediment transport and exchange in the Tana Estuary, Kenya. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 63:455–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Levesque VA, Oberg KA (2012) Computing discharge using the index velocity method. US Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 3–A23:148Google Scholar
  15. Meade RH (1972) Transport and deposition of sediments in estuaries. Geol Soc Am Mem 133:91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Morgan-King TL, Schoellhamer DH (2013) Suspended-sediment flux and retention in a backwater tidal slough complex near the landward boundary of an estuary. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 36:300–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Nidzieko NJ, Ralston DK (2012) Tidal asymmetry and velocity skew over tidal flats and shallow channels within a macrotidal river delta. J Geophys Res 117(C03001):17Google Scholar
  18. Pawlowicz R, Beardsley B, Lentz S (2002) Classical tidal harmonic analysis including error estimates in MATLAB using T_TIDE. Comput Geosci 28:929–937CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ralston DK, Stacey MT (2007) Tidal and meteorological forcing of sediment transport in tributary mudflat channels. Cont Shelf Res 27:1510–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rasmussen PP, Gray JR, Glysson GD, Ziegler AC (2009) Guidelines and procedures for computing time-series suspended-sediment concentrations and loads from in-stream turbidity-sensor and streamflow data. U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and. Methods Book 3(C4):52Google Scholar
  21. Ruhl CA, Simpson MR (2005) Computation of discharge using the index-velocity method in tidally affected areas. US Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5004:31Google Scholar
  22. Schneider J (1992) Quicksilver: the complete history of Santa Clara County’s New Almaden Mine. Zella Schneider, San Jose, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  23. Schubel JR (1968) Turbidity maximum of the northern Chesapeake Bay. Science 161:1013–1015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Simpson JH, Brown J, Matthews J, Allen G (1990) Tidal straining, density currents, and stirring in the control of estuarine stratification. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 13:125–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shellenbarger GG, Wright SA, Schoellhamer DH (2013) A sediment budget for the southern reach in San Francisco Bay, CA: implications for habitat restoration. Mar Geol 345:281–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Thomas MA, Conaway CH, Steding DJ, Marvin-DiPasquale M, Abu-Saba KE, Flegal AR (2002) Mercury contamination from historic mining in water and sediment, Guadalupe River and San Francisco Bay, California. Geochem-Explor Env A 2:211–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Toublanc F, Brenon I, Coulombier T, Moine O (2015) Fortnightly tidal asymmetry inversions and perspectives on sediment dynamics in a macrotidal estuary (Charente, France). Cont Shelf Res 94:42–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Uncles RJ, Stephens AJ (2010) Turbidity and sediment transport in a muddy sub-estuary. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 87:213–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wagner RJ, Boulger R Jr, Oblinger CJ, Smith BA (2006) Guidelines and standard procedures for continuous water-quality monitors—station operation, record computation, and data reporting. US Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 1–D3:51Google Scholar
  30. Woodworth PL, Blackman DL, Pugh PH (2005) On the role of diurnal tides in contributing to asymmetries in tidal probability distribution functions in areas of predominantly semi-diurnal tide.  Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 64:235--240Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory G. Shellenbarger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maureen A. Downing-Kunz
    • 1
  • David H. Schoellhamer
    • 1
  1. 1.San Francisco Estuary Sediment Transport Project, California Water Science CenterUS Geological SurveySacramentoUSA

Personalised recommendations