Energetic waves, strong bottom currents, and relatively high rates of sediment discharge from the Eel River combined to produce large amounts of suspended-sediment transport on the inner continental shelf near the Eel River during the winter of 1995-1996. Bottom-boundary-layer (BBL) measurements at a depth of ~50 m using the GEOPROBE tripod showed that the strongest near-bottom flows (combined wave and current speeds of over 1 m/s) and highest sediment concentrations (exceeding 2 g/l at ~1.2 m above the bed) occurred during two storms, one in December 1995 and the other in February 1996. Discharge from the Eel River during these storms was estimated at between 2 and 4 x 103 m3/s. Suspended-sediment flux (SSF) was measured 1.2 m above the bed and calculated throughout the BBL, by applying the tripod data to a shelf sediment-transport model. These results showed initially northward along-shelf SSF during the storms, followed by abrupt and persistent southward reversals. Along-shelf flux was more pronounced during and after the December storm than in February. Across-shelf SSF over the entire measurement period was decidedly seaward. This seaward transport could be responsible for surficial deposits of recent sediment on the outer shelf and upper continental slope in this region. Sediment ripples and larger bedforms were observed in the very fine to fine sand at 50-m depth using a sector-scanning sonar mounted on the tripod. Ripple wavelengths estimated from the sonar images were about 9 cm, which compared favorably with photographs of the bottom taken with a camera mounted on the tripod. The ripple patterns were stable during periods of low combined wave-current bottom stresses, but changed significantly during high-stress events, such as the February storm. Two different sonic altimeters recorded changes in bed elevation of 10 to 20 cm during the periods of measurement. These changes are thought to have been caused principally by the migration of low-amplitude, long-wavelength sand waves into the measurement area.
Additional publication details
Estimates of suspended-sediment flux and bedform activity on the inner portion of the Eel continental shelf