The contribution of sand and mud to infilling of tidal basins in response to a closure dam

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Human interventions and climate change can heavily influence the large-scale morphological development of tidal basins. This has implications on sediment management strategies, as well as ecological and recreational purposes. Examples of heavily impacted tidal basins are those in the Western Dutch Wadden Sea. The closure of a large sub-basin in 1932 triggered a shift in the sediment budgets of the remaining basins, leading to sediment infilling that is still ongoing. This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the post-closure sediment volumes, differentiating between sand and mud. Analysis of historical sediment composition data combined with bathymetry data revealed that the intervention caused a redistribution of sand and mud sedimentation. The responses of both sediment types differ spatially and temporally. The total infilling of the basins over the last century was substantially caused by mud (~32%, which is much larger than the average mud content in the bed). Initially, large mud volumes accreted in abandoned channels. At present, mud sedimentation along the mainland coast is still ongoing with nearly constant sedimentation rates over the past century, while the net import of sand significantly decreased over time and has been fluctuating around 0 over the last two decades. This research shows the importance of distinguishing between the response of sandy and muddy sediments when analysing the morphodynamic impact of an intervention, since they operate on different time and spatial scales. Sea level rise is currently a major threat for the existence of the Wadden Sea; its future fate will depend on whether the tidal flats are able to keep pace. Our results show that the supply of mud is sufficient to keep pace with the current sea level rise rates.