Tidal and sediment dynamics of a partially mixed, micro-tidal estuary

Joanne O'Callaghan

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    130 Downloads (Pure)


    [Truncated abstract] The expansion of human populations in coastal land margins has resulted in major modifcations to estuarine ecosystems. The use of numerical models as predictive tools for assessing remediation strategies is increasing. However, parameterisation of physical processes, developed mainly through field investigations, is necessary for these models to be reliable and effective management tools. The physical processes in micro–tidal diurnal tidal systems are relatively unknown and the current study examines field measurements obtained from the upper Swan River estuary (Western Australia), a diurnal, partially mixed system during the summer when the freshwater discharge is negligible. The aims of the study were to characterise, temporally and spatially, the dominant physical processes and associated sediment resuspension. Variability at three dominant time-scales were examined: 1) sub–tidal oscillations (∼5 to 10 days) resulting from local and remote forcing; 2) tidal (∼ 24 hours) due to astronomical forcing; and 3) intra-tidal (∼2 to 3 hours) resulting from the interaction between tidal constituents. Circulation in estuaries is widely accepted in the literature to be dominated, in varying proportions, by tidal range, freshwater discharge and gravitational circulation. In the upper Swan River estuary sub–tidal oscillations were responsible for the largest upstream displacement of the salt wedge in the absence of freshwater discharge. Moreover, these sub–tidal fluctuations in water level modified the ‘classic’ estuarine circulation. The dynamics of diurnal tides are largely controlled by the tropic month, which oscillates at a slightly different period to the lunar month, resulting in the spring–neap tidal cycle to be sometimes different from syzygy. The phase lag between the diurnal (O1 + K1) and semi-diurnal (M2 + S2) constituents, at the seasonal time scale cause the maximum tidal range to be near the solstice. Over a 24–hour tidal cycle this phase lag is manifested as an intra–tidal oscillation that occurs on the flood tide. Turbidity events that last ∼1 to 2 hours occur during the intra–tidal oscillation, but are not related to maximum shear stress predicted from the mean flow characteristics. The increases in turbidity during the intra–tidal oscillation is, however, correlated with the near–bed Reynolds fluxes. During the intra–tidal oscillation advection opposes the estuarine circulation in the near–bed region, promoting vertical shear that results in destratifcation of the water column. The turbulent mixing generated at the interface and in the near–bed region coincide with resuspension events. Similar turbidity data have often been disregarded and documented as being ‘spikes’ based on the premise that the mean flow was below a critical level to resuspend sediment. Resuspension events were not simply related to mean processes and may be controlled by turbulent instabilities generated when tidal currents reverse during an intra-tidal oscillation
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Western Australia
    • Pattiaratchi, Charitha, Supervisor
    • Hamilton, David, Supervisor
    • Robb, Malcolm, Supervisor, External person
    Award date13 Jul 2005
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2005


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