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Fluvial delivery and wave resuspension of sediment in a sheltered, urbanized Pacific Northwest estuary

August 23, 2023

The sequence and timing of sediment delivery and redistribution in coastal systems is important for shoreline stability, ecosystem services, and remediation planning. In temperate estuaries, understanding the role of fluvial sediment delivery and dispersal relative to wind and wave remobilization processes is particularly important to address the fate of contaminants, many of which adsorb to fine particles, and to assess changes in coastal systems under projected changes in climate. Here we present an integrated analysis of observations at multiple timescales to evaluate sediment dynamics and the sedimentary coupling between fluvial and oceanographic processes within Bellingham Bay, Washington, USA, an urban estuary. Time-series data of currents, waves, and turbidity at four moorings along with geochemical data from grab samples and cores of seabed sediment from across the bay are contrasted with the dynamics of the Nooksack River, its fluvial sediment source. Even during large (5-yr return interval) river-flood events, water-column suspended-sediment concentration (SSC) near the bed on the outer delta topset was not correlated with Nooksack River runoff and was instead closely correlated with local wind-wave height. In contrast, near-surface SSC was strongly correlated with fluvial discharge, suggesting intense water-column suspended-sediment stratification during flood events. Grain-size and geochemical (7">7Be and excess 210">210Pb) results from seabed-sediment samples and historical bathymetric measurements of the subaqueous Nooksack River delta reveal spatial gradients of fluvial and wave influence and sediment-accumulation rates. Analysis of historical bathymetric surveys of the Nooksack River delta combined with the geochemical data reveal that about 75% of the fluvial sediment load can be accounted for in the Bellingham Bay receiving system. Studies of this type in urbanized coastal settings can help address ecological and geological questions regarding the risks from contaminants associated with fine-grained sediment, predict longer-term delta morphological evolution, and inform managers planning future coastal restoration efforts

Publication Year 2024
Title Fluvial delivery and wave resuspension of sediment in a sheltered, urbanized Pacific Northwest estuary
DOI 10.1007/s12237-023-01256-0
Authors Daniel J. Nowacki, Andrew W. Stevens, Renee K. Takesue, Eric E. Grossman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Estuaries and Coasts
Index ID 70248271
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center