Intertidal mudflat properties, currents and sediment erosion in the partially mixed Tamar Estuary, UK

Research paper by Reginald J. Uncles, Anthony J. Bale, Mary D. Brinsley, Patricia E. Frickers, Carolyn Harris, Roy E. Lewis, Nicholas D. Pope, Frederick J. Staff, John A. Stephens, Carol M. Turley, John Widdows

Indexed on: 01 Sep '03Published on: 01 Sep '03Published in: Ocean Dynamics


Results are presented from a 1-year campaign to measure the seasonal variability of some key physical and biological properties of intertidal mudflats over a section of the central Tamar Estuary and to relate these to the physical environment. Seasonal variations in “physical” mudflat properties, such as grain size, density and moisture content were relatively small. With the exception of the particulate organic carbon content in the upper 0.002 m of surface sediment, biological variations were large. Redox potential exhibited considerable seasonal variation and showed that the sediments were less reduced in winter and more reduced in summer. Chlorophyll a and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) within the surface 0.002 m of sediment (due to the presence of benthic diatoms) were strongly correlated and exhibited a pronounced seasonal pattern, with smallest values during winter and greatest values during late summer and early autumn. EPS had a dominating influence on sediment erosion, as determined from annular flume measurements. Velocity measurements and velocity modelling indicated that during the flood, and for much of the time during benthic diatom “bloom” conditions of high chlorophyll a and EPS sediment contents, the stresses exerted by tidal currents were too small to cause significant suspension of sediments over much of the middle and upper mudflats. Suspended fine sediment in the turbidity maximum zone was transported down-estuary and deposited in the main channel at low-water (LW) slack. Some of this sediment, in the form of relatively large aggregates, was subsequently transported onto the mudflats during the flooding tide, where slack currents and fast settling velocities may have enhanced sediment deposition there.