Principles of Sediment Transport Applicable in Tidal Environments

  • Ping Wang


Physical processes of sediment transport in tidal environments are extremely complicated and are influenced by numerous hydrodynamic and sedimentological factors over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales. Both tide and wave forcing play significant roles in the entrainment and transport of both cohesive and non-cohesive particles. Present understanding of sediment transport is largely empirical and based heavily on field and laboratory measurements. Sediment transport is composed of three phases: (1) initiation of motion (erosion), (2) transport, and (3) deposition. In tidal environments, the coarser non-cohesive sediments are typically transported as bedload, forming various types of bedforms. The finer cohesive sediments tend to be transported as suspended load, with their deposition occurring mostly during slack tides under calm conditions. Rate of sediment transport is generally proportional to flow velocity to the 3rd to 5th power. This non-linear relationship leads to a net transport in the direction of the faster velocity in tidal environments with a time-velocity asymmetry. Due to the slow settling velocity of fine cohesive sediment and a difference between the critical shear stress for erosion and deposition, scour and settling lags exist in many tidal environments resulting in a landward-fining trend of sediment grain size. The periodic reversing of tidal flow directions results in characteristic bi-directional sedimentary structures. The relatively tranquil slack tides allow the deposition of muddy layers in between the sandy layers deposited during flood and ebb tides, forming the commonly observed lenticular, wavy, and flaser bedding.


Sediment Transport Sediment Concentration Suspended Sediment Concentration Settling Velocity Critical Shear Stress 
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Notations and Conventional Units


a reference level (typically defined at the top level of the bedload layer) for suspended sediment concentration. (m)


suspended sediment concentration (dimensionless for volume concentration, kg/m3 for mass concentration)


reference concentration (dimensionless for volume concentration, kg/m3 for mass concentration)


suspended sediment concentration profile (dimensionless for volume concentration, kg/m3 for mass concentration)

\( \overline{c}\):

depth averaged concentration (dimensionless for volume concentration, kg/m3 for mass concentration)


sediment grain size (m)


dimensionless sediment grain size (dimension­less)


wave-energy dissipation due to breaking (kg/s3)


mean sediment grain size (m)


50th percentile sediment grain size (m)


wave energy per unit water volume (kg/s2)


bottom friction coefficient (dimensionless)


wave height (m)


water depth (m)


empirical coefficients used in suspended ­sedi­ment concentration profile modeling (dimensionless)


dispersion coefficient in x direction (dimen­sion­less)


dispersion coefficient in y direction (dimen­sion­less)


wave length (m)


turbulent mixing length (m)


volumetric bed-load transport rate (m3/m/s)


volume rate of suspended sediment transport (m3/m/s)


= source and sink terms


sediment specific density = ρsw (dimension­less)


wave period (s)


near bottom wave orbital velocity (m/s)


current velocity with respect to depth z (m/s)

\( \overline{u}\):

depth-averaged current velocity (m/s)


current related bed-shear velocity (m/s)


critical bed shear velocity (m/s)


critical shear velocity for sediment suspension (m/s)

\( \overline{{u}_{cr}}\):

depth-averaged critical velocity (m/s)

\( \overline{v}\):

depth average velocity in y direction (m/s)


settling velocity (m/s)


settling velocity of single suspended particle in clear water used in the calculation of the ­settling velocity of flocs (m/s)


vertical coordinate representing water depth (m)


vertical level with zero velocity, also often referred to as bed roughness (m)


empirical coefficients used in suspended sediment concentration profile modeling (dimen­sionless)


empirical coefficients used in suspended sediment concentration profile modeling (dimen­sionless)


empirical coefficients used in suspended sediment concentration profile modeling (dimen­sionless)


sediment mixing coefficient


Shields parameter (dimensionless)


critical Shields parameter (dimensionless)


critical Shields parameter for sediment ­suspension (dimensionless)


Von Karman’s constant, typically taken as 0.4 (dimensionless)


an efficiency factor to incorporate the influence of bedforms on bedload transport used in the Meyer-Peter and Mueller (1948) bedload transport formula (dimensionless)


kinematic viscosity (m2/s)

ρs :

sediment density (kg/m3)


density of water (seawater in the case of tidal environment) (kg/m3)


bed shear stress (N/m2)


critical bed shear stress (N/m2)

\( {f}_{floc}\):

flocculation factor (dimensionless)

\( {\phi_{hs}} \):

hindered settling factor (dimensionless)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Coastal Research Laboratory, Department of GeologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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