Measurements were collected on a shallow estuarine mudflat in northern San Francisco Bay to examine the physical processes controlling waves, turbulence, sediment resuspension, and their interactions. Tides alone forced weak to moderate currents of 10–30 cm s-1 in depths of 0–3 m, and maintained a background suspension of 30–50 mg L21 of fine sediment. In the presence of wind waves, bottom orbital velocities spanned 20–30 cm s-1, suspended-sediment concentrations (SSC) at 15 and 30 cm above the bed (cmab) increased by 1–2 orders of magnitude, and vertical gradients in SSC were strong enough to produce turbulence-limiting stratification, with gradient Richardson numbers exceeding 0.25. Simultaneously, turbulent
stresses (decomposed from wave motions) increased by an order of magnitude. The apparent contradiction of energetic turbulence in the presence of strong stratification was reconciled by considering the turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) budget: in general, dissipation and buoyancy flux were balanced by local shear production, and each of these terms increased during wave events. The classic wave-current boundary layer model represented
the observations qualitatively, but not quantitatively since the velocity profile could not be approximated as logarithmic. Rather, the mean shear was elevated by the Stokes drift return flow and wind-generated surface
stress, which diffused sediment upward and limited stratification. Our findings highlight a pathway for waves to supply energy to both the production and destruction of turbulence, and demonstrate that in such shallow depths, TKE and SSC can be elevated over more of the water column than predicted by traditional models.
Additional publication details
Interactions between waves, sediment, and turbulence on a shallow estuarine mudflat