Feedback Effects of Sediment Suspensions on Transport Mechanisms in an Estuarine Turbidity Maximum

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The mechanisms controlling the formation of an estuarine turbidity maximum (ETM) in estuaries have been extensively investigated, but one aspect that has received much less scientific attention is the role of high suspended sediment concentrations in combination with tidal asymmetry in ETM formation. Particularly in highly turbid estuaries, sediment suspensions influence ETM development through a combination of horizontal sediment-induced density currents, a reduction in turbulent mixing, and water-bed exchange processes. In this study, we developed a schematic model resembling the Yangtze Estuary where the ETM is controlled by tidal pumping, estuarine circulation, and advection operating simultaneously. Model results suggest that high water slack tide asymmetry with Sediment-induced density effects (SedDE) favors landward migration of the ETM. In addition, without SedDE, stronger flood tidal dominance leads to more pronounced sediment trapping through tidal pumping. Depending on the type of tidal asymmetry, SedDE strengthen ETM growth by increasing estuarine circulation but may also lead to increased or reduced sediment concentration in the ETM due to enhanced or weakened landward tidal pumping, respectively. Higher near-bed sediment concentrations as a result of water-bed exchange processes, in turn, strengthen the effect of estuarine circulation but simultaneously strengthen the divergence of sediment by tidal pumping. Overall, the SedDE and higher near-bed sediment concentration, in combination with tidal asymmetry, play an important role in ETM formation and should be properly accounted for in studies on ETM dynamics in turbid estuaries.