Impact of Reduced Fluvial Sediment Supply on Saltwater Intrusion in the Yangtze Estuary

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A decline of the fluvial sediment supply leads to coastal erosion and land loss. However, the fluvial sediment load may influence not only coastal morphodynamics but also estuarine hydrodynamics and associated saltwater intrusion. Previous studies revealed that suspended sediments influence estuarine hydrodynamics through various flow–sediment interactions. In this contribution, we systematically investigate how changes in fluvial sediment load and other climate-change-induced environmental change influence estuarine hydrodynamics and sediment dynamics. For this purpose, we utilize a well-calibrated fully coupled model in which hydrodynamics, saltwater intrusion, and sediment transport interact with each other, to explore saltwater intrusion in the Yangtze Estuary in response to a decline in the sediment load, modified discharge, and sea-level rise. Model results suggest that a 70% decline in the suspended sediment load weakens the impact of sediments on salinity-induced stratification and thereby reducing saltwater intrusion. Sea-level rise or discharge peak reduction increases saltwater intrusion. However, a fully coupled model accounting for sediment effects predicts a much larger increase in saltwater intrusion compared to noncoupled models. Whether this effect is important depends on estuarine sediment concentrations and therefore the potential role of sediments should be carefully investigated before applying a noncoupled model. This work highlights not only the relevance of a suspended sediment decline but also the use of fully coupled models for predicting saltwater intrusion in turbid estuaries and has broad implications for freshwater resource management in turbid estuarine systems influenced by human interventions and climate change.