The role of extreme floods in estuary-coastal behaviour: contrasts between river- and tide-dominated microtidal estuaries

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Contrasting modes of sedimentation and facies arrangement in tide- and river-dominated microtidal estuaries arise from the degree to which river or tidal discharge and sediment supply influences an estuary. A distinct facies gradation exists in tide-dominated systems from sandy, barrier/tidal delta-associated environments at the coast through deep mud-dominated middle reaches to fluvial sediment in the upper reaches. In river-dominated systems, fluvial sediment extends to the barrier and flood-tidal deltas are poorly developed or absent from the estuary. A number of independent observations during extreme floods on the South African coast indicate that these types of estuary respond differently to extreme river floods and that the mode of response corresponds to estuary type, Tide-dominated systems exhibit preferential erosion of noncohesive barrier and tidal delta sediments during river floods while the middle reaches remain little modified. River-dominated systems experience consistent erosion throughout their channel length during extreme floods. The increased cohesion of riverine sediments and stabilisation of bars by vegetation in river-dominated channels means that higher magnitude floods are necessary to effect significant morphological change. Barrier erosion, including the tidal delta, results in deposition of an ephemeral delta composed almost entirely of sands from these deposits in tide-dominated estuaries. In river-dominated systems, eroded channel sediments and material from the river catchment may augment barrier sediments in the ephemeral delta deposit. Post-flood, wave-reworking of ephemeral delta sediments acts to restore barriers to pre-flood morphology within a few years;, however, in river-dominated systems, the additional sediment volume may produce significant coastal progradation that requires several years or decades to redistribute. These different modes of flood response mediated by the nature of the estuary have implications for coastal behaviour at the time scale of months to several decades, Estuary-coastal behaviour at river-dominated estuaries may be influenced for several decades by post-flood morphological adjustment. Tide-dominated estuaries, however, respond more rapidly in reworking flood-eroded sediment and are typically fully adjusted to modal wave and tidal conditions within a few months to a few years. In addition, the facies arrangement within the two estuary types renders tide-dominated estuaries more responsive to minor floods, while river-dominated estuaries, by virtue of more cohesive channel sediments, require greater discharges to effect significant morphological change. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-137
JournalSedimentary Geology
Issue number1-2, S
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Jun 2002

Bibliographical note

Inaugural Meeting of the IGCP on Coastal Environmental Change During Sea-Level Highstands, HONOLULU, HAWAII, NOV 09-12, 1999


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