Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 2198–2212 | Cite as

Suspended-Sediment Trapping in the Tidal Reach of an Estuarine Tributary Channel

  • Maureen A. Downing-KunzEmail author
  • David H. Schoellhamer


Evidence of decreasing sediment supply to estuaries and coastal oceans worldwide illustrates the need for accurate and updated estimates. In the San Francisco Estuary (Estuary), recent research suggests a decrease in supply from its largest tributaries, implying the increasing role of smaller, local tributaries in sediment supply to this estuary. Common techniques for estimating supply from tributaries are based on gages located above head of tide, which do not account for trapping processes within the tidal reach. We investigated the effect of a tidal reach on suspended-sediment discharge for Corte Madera Creek, a small tributary of the Estuary. Discharge of water (Q) and suspended-sediment (SSD) were observed for 3 years at two locations along the creek: upstream of tidal influence and at the mouth. Comparison of upstream and mouth gages showed nearly 50 % trapping of upstream SSD input within the tidal reach over this period. At the storm time scale, suspended-sediment trapping efficiency varied greatly (range −31 to 93 %); storms were classified as low- or high-yield based on upstream SSD. As upstream peak Q increased, high-yield storms exhibited significantly decreased trapping. Tidal conditions at the mouth—ebb duration and peak ebb velocity—during storms had a minor effect on sediment trapping, suggesting fluvial processes dominate. Comparison of characteristic fluvial and tidal discharges at the storm time scale demonstrated longitudinal differences in the regulating process for SSD. These results suggest that SSD from gages situated above head of tide overestimate sediment supply to the open waters beyond tributary mouths and thus trapping processes within the tidal reach should be considered.


Suspended-sediment discharge Coastal tributary Tidal reach Suspended-sediment trapping 



This study was supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco District, as part of a Regional Sediment Management Program for San Francisco Bay. We also thank the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission for their assistance. We thank Paul Buchanan, Karl Davidek, Amber Forest, Mathieu Marineau, Dennis O’Halloran, Amber Powell, Greg Shellenbarger, Kurt Weidich, Brooks Weisser, Daniel Whealdon-Haught, and Rob Wilson for their assistance with data collection and analysis. We thank Lester McKee, Paul Work, Scott Wright, and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maureen A. Downing-Kunz
    • 1
    Email author
  • David H. Schoellhamer
    • 2
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveyPlacer HallSacramentoUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyPortlandUSA

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