Quantifying sediment supply from estuarine tributaries is an important component of developing a sediment budget, and common techniques for estimating supply are based on gages located above tidal influence. However, tidal interactions near tributary mouths can affect the magnitude and direction of sediment supply to the open waters of the estuary. We investigated suspended-sediment dynamics in the tidal reach of Corte Madera Creek, an estuarine tributary of San Francisco Bay, using moored acoustic and optical instruments. Flux of both water and suspended-sediment were calculated from observed water velocity and turbidity for two periods in each of wet and dry seasons during 2010. During wet periods, net suspended-sediment flux was seaward; tidally filtered flux was dominated by the advective component. In contrast, during dry periods, net flux was landward; tidally filtered flux was dominated by the dispersive component. The mechanisms generating this landward flux varied; during summer we attributed wind–wave resuspension in the estuary and subsequent transport on flood tides, whereas during autumn we attributed increased spring tide flood velocity magnitude leading to local resuspension. A quadrant analysis similar to that employed in turbulence studies was developed to summarize flux time series by quantifying the relative importance of sediment transport events. These events are categorized by the direction of velocity (flood vs. ebb) and the magnitude of concentration relative to tidally averaged conditions (relatively turbid vs. relatively clear). During wet periods, suspended-sediment flux was greatest in magnitude during relatively turbid ebbs, whereas during dry periods it was greatest in magnitude during relatively turbid floods. A conceptual model was developed to generalize seasonal differences in suspended-sediment dynamics; model application to this study demonstrated the importance of few, relatively large events on net suspended-sediment flux. These results suggest that other estuarine tributaries may alternate seasonally as sediment sinks or sources, leading to the conclusion that calculations of estuary sediment supply from local tributaries that do not account for tidal reaches may be overestimates.
Additional publication details
Seasonal variations in suspended-sediment dynamics in the tidal reach of an estuarine tributary