Resuspension, transport, and deposition of sediments over the continental shelf and slope are complex processes and there is still a need to understand the underlying spatial and temporal dynamical scales. As a step towards this goal, a two-dimensional slice model (zero gradients in the alongshore direction) based on the primitive flow equations and a range of sediment classes has been developed. The circulation is forced from rest by upwelling or downwelling winds, which are spatially uniform. Results are presented for a range of wind speeds and sediment settling speeds. Upwelling flows carry fine sediments (low settling speeds) far offshore within the surface Ekman layer, and significant deposition eventually occurs beyond the shelf break. However, coarser sediments quickly settle out of the deeper onshore component of the circulation, which can lead to accumulation of bottom sediments within the coastal zone. Downwelling flows are more effective at transporting coarse sediments off the shelf. However, strong vertical mixing at the shelf break ensures that some material is also carried into the surface Ekman layer and returned onshore. The concentrations and settling fluxes of coarse sediments decrease offshore and increase with depth under both upwelling and downwelling conditions, consistent with trends observed in sediment trap data. However, finer sediments decrease with depth (upwelling) or reach a maximum around the depth of the shelf break (downwelling). It is shown that under uniform wind conditions, suspended sediment concentrations and settling fluxes decay offshore over a length scale of order τs/ρf|ws|, where τs is the wind stress, ρ the water density, f the Coriolis parameter, and ws is the sediment settling velocity. This scaling applies to both upwelling and downwelling conditions, provided offshore transport is dominated by wind-driven advection, rather than horizontal diffusion.
Additional publication details
Sediment distribution and transport across the continental shelf and slope under idealized wind forcing
Progress in Oceanography
Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Coastal and Marine Geology Program