Growing forced bars determine non-ideal estuary planform

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Jasper R.F.W. Leuven, Lisanne Braat , Wout M. van Dijk , Tjalling de Haas, Erik van Onselen, Gerben Ruessink, Maarten G Kleinhans 


The planform of estuaries is often described with an ideal shape, which exponentially
converges in landward direction. We show how growing topographically forced nonmigratory (i.e., anchored) bars determine the large-scale estuary planform, which explains the deviations observed in the planform of natural estuaries filled with bars compared to the ideal planform. Experiments were conducted in a 20-m long, 3-m-wide tilting flume, the Metronome. From a narrow, converging channel a self-formed
estuary developed characterized by multiple channels, braided bars, a meandering ebb channel, and an ebb delta. Bars hardly migrated due to the alternating current, but the bar width increased with increasing estuary width. At locations where the estuary width was narrow, major channel confluences were present, while the zones between the confluences were characterized by a higher braiding index, periodically
migrating channels, and a relatively large estuary width. At the seaward boundary, confluences were forced in place by the presence of the ebb tidal delta. Between confluences, bars were topographically forced to be nonmigratory. Diversion of flow around forced midchannel bars caused bank erosion. This resulted in a planform shape with a quasiperiodic widening and narrowing at the scale of forced bars. Observations in natural systems show that major confluence locations can also be caused by inherited geology and human engineering, but otherwise the estuary outline is similarly affected by tidal bars. These observations provide a framework for understanding the evolution of tidal bar patterns and the planform shape of the estuary, which has wide implications for navigation, dredging, and ecology.



Earth Sciences, Geomorphology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Estuaries, bar pattern, channel configuration, channel dynamics, long-term evolution, scale-experiment


Published: 2018-05-09 09:04

Last Updated: 2018-11-21 16:59

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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