Recent observations of inner continental shelves in many regions show numerous collections of relatively coarse sediment, which extend kilometers in the cross-shore direction and are on the order of 100m wide. These "rippled scour depressions" have been interpreted to indicate concentrated cross-shelf currents. However, recent observations strongly suggest that they are associated with sediment transport along-shore rather than cross-shore. A new hypothesis for the origin of these features involves the large wave-generated ripples that form in the coarse material. Wave motions interacting with these large roughness elements generate near-bed turbulence that is greatly enhanced relative to that in other areas. This enhances entrainment and inhibits settling of fine material in an area dominated by coarse sediment. The fine sediment is then carried by mean currents past the coarse accumulations, and deposited where the bed is finer. We hypothesize that these interactions constitute a feedback tending to produce accumulations of fine material separated by self-perpetuating patches of coarse sediments. As with many types of self-organized bedforms, small features would interact as they migrate, leading to a better-organized, larger-scale pattern. As an initial test of this hypothesis, we use a numerical model treating the transport of coarse and fine sediment fractions, treated as functions of the local bed composition - a proxy for the presence of large roughness elements in coarse areas. Large-scale sorted patterns exhibiting the main characteristics of the natural features result robustly in the model, indicating that this new hypothesis offers a plausible explanation for the phenomena. ?? 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
A new hypothesis and exploratory model for the formation of large-scale inner-shelf sediment sorting and "rippled scour depressions"