High rates of bedload transport measured from infilling rate of large strudelscour craters in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska

Open-File Report 82-588




Strudel scours are craters as much as 20 m wide and 4 m deep, that are excavated by vertical drainage flow during the yearly spring flooding of vast reaches of fast ice surrounding arctic deltas; they form at a rate of about 2.5 km^-2 yr^-1. Monitoring two such craters in the Beaufort Sea, we found that in relatively unprotected sites they fill in by deposition from bedload in 2 to 3 years. Net westward sediment transport results in sand layers dipping at the angle of repose westward into the strudel-scour crater, whereas the west wall of the crater remains steep to vertical. Initially the crater traps almost all bedload: sand, pebbles, and organic detritus; as infilling progresses, the materials are increasingly winnowed, and bypassing must occur. Over a 20-m-wide sector, an exposed strudel scour trapped 360 m3 of bedload during two seasons; this infilling represents a bedload transport rate of 9 m3 yr^-1 m^-1. This rate should be applicable to a 4.5-km-wide zone with equal exposure and similar or shallower depth. Within this zone, the transport rate is 40,500 m3 yr^-1, similar to estimated longshore transport rates on local barrier beaches. On the basis of the established rate of cut and fill, all the delta-front deposits should consist of strudel-scour fill. Vibracores typically show dipping interbedded sand and lenses of organic material draped over very steep erosional contacts, and an absence of horizontal continuity of strata--criteria that should uniquely identify high-latitude deltaic deposits. Given a 2- to 3-year lifespan, most strudel scours seen in surveys must be old. The same holds true for ice gouges and other depressions not adjusted to summer waves and currents, although these features record events of only the past few years. In view of such high rates of bottom reworking of the shallow shelf, any human activities creating turbidity, such as dredging, would have little effect on the environment. However, huge amounts of transitory material trapped by long causeways planned for offshore development would result in major changes in the environment.

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High rates of bedload transport measured from infilling rate of large strudelscour craters in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey,
19 p. ill., maps ;28 cm.