Far-field plume dispersion modelling for backhoe dredging activities in the Black Rocks harbour

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On Saba, an island located in the Caribbean, a new harbour will be constructed. To protect coral reefs in the vicinity from light attenuation and sedimentation, it is important to monitor and predict the turbidity stresses caused by the dredging operation. In the early stages of such projects involving dredging operations, a common approach is to estimate the turbidity stresses in a simplified way using stationary source terms and the exclusion of important physical processes as tidal and wind-forcing. This research focused on the development of a representative approach to simulate the turbidity effects from dredging activities by backhoe dredgers in the vicinity of Caribbean islands, by building on existing methods by Becker et al. (2015) and Tuinhof (2014). The Black Rocks harbour project on Saba was used as a case study to test the effectiveness of the new method approach.

First, the local physical processes were identified and their influence on the turbidity stresses and dispersion of the sediment plumes were discussed. Insight in the wave heights and wave period should be obtained to aid in the decision for the dredging equipment to use and their workability. Key processes to include for a representative simulation for the dispersion of the plumes were identified to be the tidal and wind driven currents over the depth. Another local phenomenon to consider was the run-off from peak precipitation events, as this results in high background turbidity levels. Analysis of local sediment samples is required to obtain insight in the fines content, required for the estimation of the sediment flux, and the distribution of particle sizes and the particle density to determine the settling velocity.

Insight in the work method and duration of the dredging cycle provides information to determine the temporal distribution of the source terms to suitably simulate the loss of fines over time, making a distinction for the presence of the source between day and night cycles and during relocation. The primary source term contributing to the release of fines, identified to be the bucket drip, was spatially distributed to simulate the relocation of the backhoe. An additional method step was introduced by estimating the local fines content for each source term over the dredging volume, resulting in a more representative approach for dredging volumes exhibiting a heterogeneous distribution of the fines content compared to using a single value for the fines content. The source terms were estimated using an existing method by Becker et al. (2015) and distributed over multiple sediment fractions, to include the representation of the smaller particles, affecting the
far-field SSC in the model.

The effects of tidal and wind-forcing were incorporated using a 3D model, while running different hydrodynamic scenarios to test the effects for a variety of flow conditions. The grid resolution was chosen to ensure an accurate representation of the spatial distribution of the sediment concentration resulting from the bucket drip. The source terms were equally distributed over the depth to simulate the gradual loss of the fines over the depth by the bucket drip. The selection of an appropriate formulation for the settling velocity, to account for the local hydrodynamic conditions and sediment characteristics, increases the representation of the distribution of fines over time.

The model results indicated that for both a stationary and relocating source term, an accurate
depiction of the average SSC values over longer time periods as days and weeks is simulated, while the relocating source tends to estimate peak concentrations more accurately, as the source location and quantity is represented more precisely. Turbidity thresholds, set for the Black Rocks project, were only exceeded on one occasion during the occurrence of a current reversal for the relocating source, but not for a stationary source. This indicates the added value of applying a more detailed approach to simulate the turbidity stresses. Following the suggested additions to the methods an updated approach to simulate the turbidity stresses by a backhoe dredger was proposed. Further research into refinement of the method, focusing on the spatial distribution of the source and appropriate spatial and vertical grid resolution, can increase the suitability of the suggested method for simulating turbidity stresses induced by a backhoe dredger.