Field observations of wave-averaged suspended sediment concentrations in the inner surf zone with varying storm conditions

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During extreme conditions, the transport of the wave-averaged suspended sediment concentrations in the inner surf zone affects dune erosion. Although large-scale laboratory experiments have provided insight in what drives these sediment concentrations, corresponding field data are lacking. To fill this gap, novel field observations of suspended sediment concentrations are compared to drivers that govern sediment suspension during storm conditions known from literature. A total of 128 time intervals of 20 min are analysed, spread over 10 different high water events with different hydrodynamic conditions. For each time interval, the wave-averaged (i.e. 20 min mean) suspended sediment concentration is computed and compared to three suspension drivers. The studied drivers are (1) bed shear due to near bed velocities that originate from mean currents in combination with wave-induced orbital flow, (2) the horizontal pressure gradients under steep wave fronts that increase the forces on the bed material, and (3) bore-induced turbulence that is generated at the free surface and reaches the bed. The derived bore-induced turbulence generates the greatest correlation with the mean suspended sediment concentrations (r = 0.74, p = 4.47E-23). Samples that deviate from this correlation correspond to time intervals with lower values of derived bore turbulence, less wave energy saturation in the inner surf zone, and stronger mean currents. The correlation with the mean suspended sediment concentrations increases when the shear stress originating from mean currents is used for these time intervals (r = 0.83, p = 1.63E-33). For time intervals during which more energetic conditions persist and the wave energy is saturated in the nearshore, bore turbulence was the dominant mechanism in stirring up sediment. The outcome of this study suggests that, based on the events analysed, dune erosion models may achieve more accurate results if computations of suspended sediment concentrations include a bore-induced turbulence term, or if already included, properly address the relative importance of bore-induced turbulence when compared to bed shearing.