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Suspended sediment dynamics in a tidal channel network under peak river flow


Peak river flows transport fine sediment, nutrients, and contaminants that may deposit in the estuary. This study explores the importance of peak river flows on sediment dynamics with special emphasis on channel network configurations. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is connected to San Francisco Bay (California, USA), motivates this study and is used as a validation case. Besides data analysis of observations, we applied a calibrated process-based model (D-Flow FM) to explore and analyze high-resolution (∼100 m, ∼1 h) dynamics. Peak river flows supply the vast majority of sediment into the system. Data analysis of six peak flows (between 2012 and 2014) shows that on average, 40 % of the input sediment in the system is trapped and that trapping efficiency depends on timing and magnitude of river flows. The model has 90 % accuracy reproducing these trapping efficiencies. Modeled deposition patterns develop as the result of peak river flows after which, during low river flow conditions, tidal currents are not able to significantly redistribute deposited sediment. Deposition is quite local and mainly takes place at a deep junction. Tidal movement is important for sediment resuspension, but river induced, tide residual currents are responsible for redistributing the sediment towards the river banks and to the bay. We applied the same forcing for four different channel configurations ranging from a full delta network to a schematization of the main river. A higher degree of network schematization leads to higher peak-sediment export downstream to the bay. However, the area of sedimentation is similar for all the configurations because it is mostly driven by geometry and bathymetry.

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The research is part of the US Geological Survey CASCaDE climate change project (CASCaDE contribution 65). The authors acknowledge the US Geological Survey Priority Ecosystem Studies and CALFED for making this research financially possible. The data used in this work are freely available on the USGS website ( This work is partially financed by CAPES. The model applied in this work will be freely available from

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Correspondence to Fernanda Minikowski Achete.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Physics of Estuaries and Coastal Seas 2014 in Porto de Galinhas, PE, Brazil, 19-23 October 2014

Responsible Editor: Carlos Augusto França Schettini

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Achete, F.M., van der Wegen, M., Roelvink, D. et al. Suspended sediment dynamics in a tidal channel network under peak river flow. Ocean Dynamics 66, 703–718 (2016).

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  • Numerical model
  • Cohesive sediment
  • Estuary
  • Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
  • Sedimentation