The hydrodynamics of an eco-innovative sediment reuse project in the Rotterdam Waterway

Gaining insight into the physics and the predictive capability of two operational hydrodynamic models

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Phenomena like sea level rise, global warming and erosion together contribute to increasing flood risk in vulnerable coastal areas. As this flood risk increases, initiatives to mitigate the effects of climate change in the coastal zone are also increasingly sought. During recent years, the view that these measures should be circular has gained significant momentum. In line with this, the idea that sediment should not be treated as waste, but as a valuable product in a circular economy has been widely accepted. Within this theme, the sediment uses as resources in circular and in territorial economies (SURICATES) was created to develop and execute eco-innovative solutions for the reuse of sediments in Western Europe. As a part of SURICATES, over the course of a nine week pilot, a total of 500 tonnes of sediment was reallocated in a designated area in the Rotterdam Waterway, with the expectation that this sediment would be transported out of the Rhine-Meuse estuary into the North Sea. The SURICATES project is one of the first real large-scale efforts to reuse sediment for economic as well as ecosystem services. Effective implementation of the SURICATES project, however, requires a thorough understanding of the governing physical processes impacting the distribution of the deposited sediment locally. Furthermore, to assess the feasibility of similar future applications, efficient modelling of the pilot project is necessary. The work presented here aims to elucidate the hydrodynamic processes that are governing in the Rotterdam Waterway, within the framework of the SURICATES pilot project, and assess the reproducibility of these processes by (two) predictive models that are currently operational at the Port of Rotterdam. A special 6-hour monitoring survey was set up to measure salinities, velocities, temperature, and suspended particulate matter (SPM) along a transect crossing the reallocation location. In combination with a literature review, this dataset provides the basis for research into the predictive capabilities of two currently operational hydrodynamic models. Analysis of this dataset reveals the dominant terms in the momentum balance, the influence of Coriolis, the occurrence of internal waves, and the effect that all these mechanisms may have on the SPM distribution around the reallocation location. When the system dynamics are elucidated, the model performance of the two hydrodynamic models is assessed—both quantitatively and qualitatively. It is also investigated whether phase shifts are introduced in the models. It is found that the primary hydrodynamic processes in the Rotterdam Waterway are related to the barotropic tidal asymmetry imposed at the river mouth, the tidal excursion of the salt wedge, baroclinic exchange flow processes, and turbulence damping at the pycnocline. Turbulence damping at the pycnocline generally poses an upper limit to the (re)distribution of SPM over the water column, although field data suggests that this damping may not be sufficient to counteract diffusion processes locally. This effect occurs under certain forcing conditions and during low water slack. Furthermore, an internal Froude number analysis provides evidence for the possible generation of internal waves in one of the river’s bends. The evaluated models, however, are not capable of reproducing all of these hydrodynamic processes adequately. Although both models adequately reproduce water levels and the vertical velocity structure, they have difficulties predicting the pycnocline height. Additionally, it is found that both models introduce a small phase shift in the velocity and salinity prediction. The research presented here is a contribution to the understanding of the governing hydrodynamic processes in the Rotterdam Waterway, and the effect that (in)accurate modelling of these processes may have on future studies. Recommendations following from this research could improve future modelling practices.