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Coastal and shelf sediment transport: an introduction


1School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, Southampton Oceanography Centre,
European Way, Southampton S014 3ZH, UK (e-mail." mbc@noc, soton, ac. uk)

2Marine Research Division, AZTI Tecnalia, Herrera Kaia, Portu aldea z/g, Pasaia 20110, Gipuzkoa,

3British Geological Survey, Kingsley Dunham Centre, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK.

Interest in sediment dynamics is generated by the need to understand and predict: (i) morphody-
namic and morphological changes, e.g. beach erosion, shifts in navigation channels, changes
associated with resource development; (ii) the fate of contaminants in estuarine, coastal and shelf
environment (sediments may act as sources and sinks for toxic contaminants, depending upon the
surrounding physico-chemical condi- tions); (iii) interactions with biota; and (iv) of particular
relevance to the present Volume, inter- pretations of the stratigraphic record. Within this context of
the latter interest, coastal and shelf sediment may be regarded as a non-renewable resource; as
such, their dynamics are of extreme importance. Over the years, various approaches and techniques
have been applied to the determi- nation of sediment transport pathways and the derivation of
erosion, transport, and deposition rates. Such wide-ranging approaches include the refinement and
application of numerical model- ling; and the development of new and more effi- cient field
equipment, e.g. video systems (coastal/ inshore) and multibeam. In general, sediment transport can
be defined on the basis of direct observations, indirect obser- vations and by modelling. Direct
observation methods include: acoustic backscatter; optical backscatter; sediment traps; artificial
tracers, for sand and pebbles; natural tracers or labelled sedi- ments, for silts and clays; and the
determination of water movements, using drifters, SPM (sus- pended particulate matter) and
remote sensing. Indirect observational methods include: sediment characteristics, including GSTA
(grain size trend analysis) and mineralogy; geomorphology, including coastal landforms, estuarine
volumes and asymmetric bedforms (ripples, sandwaves and sandbanks); and, finally, the internal
struc- ture of the sediment bodies (cross-bedding and accretionary sequences). On the basis of these
various approaches and techniques, it may be concluded that:

(a) no single method for the determination of sediment transport pathways provides the complete
picture; (b) observational evidence needs to be gathered in a particular study area, in which contem-
porary and historical data, supported by broad-based measurements, is interpreted by an
experienced practitioner (Soulsby 1997); (c) the form and internal structure of sedimen- tary sinks
can reveal long-term trends in transport directions, rates and magnitude; (d) complementary short-
term measurements and modelling are required, to (b) (above) -- any model of regional sediment
transport must account for the size, location and composition of sedimentary sinks.

On the basis of the above summary, it is evident that it is timely to review a representative selec-
tion of the different approaches, by reference to recently undertaken coastal and shelf investiga-
tions. A number of such studies (13) are included within this Special Publication, operating at a
variety of temporal and spatial scales, within dif- ferent regions of the UK/European continental
shelf, and elsewhere. The concept of different scales, in relation to sediment dynamics has been
proposed (Horikawa 1970) for classifying coastal phenom- ena into three (temporal and spatial)
categories: macroscale (year/kilometre); mesoscale (day- hour/metre); and microscale
(second/millimetre). Subsequently, the following observations have been made (Horikawa 1981): (a)
to treat the macroscale phenomena, the approach of the geologist and geomorph- ologist is helpful
for understanding the general tendencies of the coastal processes; (b) changes in shoreline and sea-
bottom topog- raphy, bar and cusp formation, together with nearshore currents, all fall into the
category of mesoscale phenomena;

From: BALSON, P. S. & COLLINS, M. B. 2007. Coastala nd Shelf Sediment Transport. Geological
Society of London, Special Publications, 274, 1-5.0305-8719107l$15.00 9 The Geological Society of
London 2007.


(c) within the context of a microscale approach, extensive research needs were identified such as, in
particular, various aspects of wave-current interaction.

Interestingly, the observation is made that, theoretically, the complete superposition of microscale
phenomena should compose the mesoscale phenomena and that of mesoscale

phenomena, the macroscale phenomena. At the time of the publication (Horikawa 1981), such
connections could not be made. The above concept has been developed further by Larson & Kraus
(1995), in relation to spatial and temporal scales for investigating sediment transport and
morphological processes. In Figure 1, microscale is seen to refer to changes from sub-wave period to
several periods, over

Fig. 1. Relationships of contributions to the Special Publication, in terms of their spatial and temporal
scales (based upon Larson & Kraus 1995).


lengths of millimetres to centimetres. At mesos- cale, net transport rates over many wave periods
are evaluated for distances of metres to a kilo- metre. Macroscale involves seasonal changes and a
space scale of kilometres, whilst megascale describes decade to century changes over coastal sub-
reaches and reaches, e.g. over a littoral cell. The concepts applied here are applicable, equally, to the
inner continental shelf (< 60 m water depth) - at the very least. The main conclu- sions reached
(Larsen & Kraus 1995) are that calculations at different scales can be related and reconciled, if
limitations in the predictions of initial and boundary conditions and in the fluid flow, are recognised.
Against this back- ground the contribution of the present pub- lication are superimposed; these
range from micro- to mega-scales, on the basis of the generalized classification. Interestingly,
Dronkers (2005) has adopted a similar approach, based upon the original synthe- sis of Holman
(2001). The former investigator makes the following pertinent observations: (a) at small spatial
scales, seabed morphology and water motion adapt to each other, with a short delay, but at a large
spatial scale, the adaptation period can be very long; (b) if erosion and sedimentation are balanced,
averaged over large temporal and spatial scales, it may happen that these is an imbal- ance at
smaller scales or vice versa - in fact, the phenomena of erosion, sedimentation and sediment
transport always have to be defined with respect to particular spatial and temporal scales; (c) the
physics of sedimentary coastal environ- ments is related to temporal and spatial scales - the physical
processes that deter- mine coastal morphology span a range of temporal scales, covering more than
ten orders of magnitude.

For large temporal, but small spatial scale pro- cesses, time-series are restricted; sometimes, they
are not of sufficient high quality to overcome any uncertainties, i.e. separating processes from
background noise. From an engineering perspec- tive, on the basis of the scientific limitations in
understanding, the best available method to predict sediment transport rates in the marine
environment may not be able to achieve much better than a factor of 5; cf. 2, in the case of rivers
(Soulsby 1997). Initially, in this Special Publication errors and uncertainties are examined, in relation
to the measurement of SSC (suspended sand concentra- tion) using Acoustic Backscatter (Vincent). A
major uncertainty is identified, in terms of the

suspended sediment component close to the bed, together with the bedload itself. The labelling of
pure clays and estuarine sediments, with lanthanide (La) is described by Spencer et al. Here, it is
concluded that further investigation is required, of the use of alternative lanthanide group elements,
for such studies. Optical and acoustic backscatter sensors are described then (Bass et al.), within the
context of the mea- surements of the mud and sand component in transit, at a site located to
seawards of the Wash embayment, southern North Sea. The problems of field measurements and
quantification of longshore sediment transport (LST) is considered by Cooper & Pilkey, in terms of
mechanisms and present approaches. It is pointed out, by these authors, that the inability to
measure the total LST has important implica- tions for coastal zone management; this is because so
many coastal management initiatives rely upon quantified volumes of LST. In terms of coastal and
shelf seas, in general, a relatively simple analytic (algebraic) approach is described (Aldridge), to
complement full-scale numerical calculations and assist in the interpretation of the numerical
results. However, the results obtained rely upon the implicit assumption that the supply of material
available for transport is not exhausted, over the tidal cycle. The repeated survey of banner tidal
sand- banks, using multibeam, is described by Schmidt et al. Interestingly, dunes connect over the
crest of the bank despite opposing sediment transport directions on the flanks. A new numerical
model, that identifies the paths taken by a large number of identified ('tagged') sand grains in
coastal areas in response to waves and currents, is described by Soulsby et al. Within this context, a
validation exercise is applied simulating the dispersal of radioactive sand tracers. Particle tracking is
considered, in terms of a somewhat different approach, by Black et al. Used in conjunction with a
range of more traditional methods, particle tracking (particle or sediment tracing, including the
deliberate marking of natural or synthetic sediment with an identifiable signature) is an additional
tool, which provides further lines of evidence. Changes in shoreline morphology along the Dutch
coast are investigated by Hinton & Nieholls; this is a wave-dominated uniform coast- line,
uninterrupted by tidal inlets. The analysis undertaken has shown that the upper, middle and lower
shoreface are coupled; this has widespread significance in the understanding of long-term coastal-
evolution. Surficial nearshore


sediments are described then, in terms of their distribution and spatial patterns (McDowell et aL).
Temporal changes in substrate and bedforms suggest bedform development and facies boundary
migration, between winter and summer seasons. The application of grain size trend analysis to
Carmathen Bay, Bristol Channel, is described by Cooper & McLaren. Complex patterns of move-
ment are interpreted, incorporating a number of tidally-induced gyres. This approach is included,
within the context of seabed sediment transport investigations, by Velegrakis et al. An integrated
approach is outlined, in relation to case studies from the southern UK inner (< 60 m water depth)
continental shelf. Conceptual sediment transport models are presented, associated with different
levels of confidence in their interpretation. Finally, at the scale of the NW European con- tinental
shelf, SPM is modelled (Souza et aL). Tidal signals and seasonal variations are identified within the
spatial patterns. The various investigations incorporated within this Volume, as outlined above,
represent a wide range of temporal and spatial scales; these are, in turn, associated with
appropriate instrumentation and analyses. Consequently, it is appropriate to incorporate each of the
studies here into an 'overview'. In parallel with this approach/concept lies the importance of
extreme (storm) events which, interestingly, appears to vary according to the location of a particular
environment, within the overall sediment dynamics system. For example, the 'episodicity' of the
transport of sediment, within the coastal zone, has been described (Seymour & Castel 1985). On the
basis of 1 to 3 years of nearshore directional wave measure- ments from seven US west coast
beaches, time- series of daily net longshore transport rates were derived. Transport was found to be
very episodic, with approximately only 10% of the time required to move half of the sediment trans-
ported during a year. Elsewhere, measurements of large-scale coastal response to multiple storms
on three coastal beaches have revealed a hetero- geneous response, with isolated hotspots of
erosion (List et al. 2006). Within a few days, these hotspots of erosion are reversed rapidly by post-
storm accretion. Such observations provide a new view on the coastal response to storms, at scales
much larger than site-specific experiments (List et al. 2006). In contrast to the importance of storms
in controlling the morphology of the coastline, the effect of wave/current interaction on sedi- ment
transport from the inner continental shelf ( < 60 m water depth) area - the southern North

Sea - reveals a different pattern. Using a high quality data set of waves and currents, from a
particular site, the contribution of different combinations to long-term transport, has been assessed
(Soulsby 1987). Under such conditions, waves act as a stirring agent to move sediment, whilst it is
transported by the current. The con- ditions analysed ranged from calm seas and neap tides, to
major storms coupled with spring tides. Interestingly, the following conclusions were reached: (a)
waves enhance transport, by up to a factor of 10, compared with transport in the absence of waves:
and (b) in terms of long-term (sediment) transport, the largest contributions were provided by 'fairly
large', but not infrequent waves, superimposed upon currents lying approxi- mately between the
peak speeds of mean neap and mean spring tides.

Nonetheless, because the sediment transport rate depends non-linearly on the current speed, also
because the effect of wave-stirring is impor- tant, the direction of the long-term transport may be
very different from the residual current direc- tion (Soulsby 1997). The very strong currents and very
large waves were found not to make significant contributions to long-term transport. As such, the
transition between storm-induced processes at the coastline, compared with the influence of
various non-linear wave/current interactions offshore, is an important area of sediment dynamics
research. Overall, the presentations made at the meet- ing (transposed, mainly on the basis of a
peer- review process, into the contributions in this Issue), incorporate the concept and approaches
reviewed above: direct/indirect observations and/ or modelling; different temporal and spatial
scales, in relation to sediment dynamics; the importance of wave/current interactions; and the
impact of episodic events. As such, it is hoped that 'state-of-the-art' science and instrumenta- tion is
incorporated into this unique publication. However, it should be remembered that sediment
transport is still an inexact science on the basis of: biological effects; the presence of (mixed)
sediments, containing a wide range of grain size components; time-history effects; and wave-
current interactions. Finally, it is speculated that strong non-linear processes, such as sediment
morphodynamics, may exhibit chaotic behaviour (in a mathematical sense), in the same way as the
weather (Soulsby 1997) The Editors acknowledge the contribution of the reviewers and the patience
of the authors, during the production of this volume.


The authors are grateful for discussion of some of the concepts here, with Adonis Velegrakis
(University of the Aegean, Greece). Likewise, Dr Haris Plomaritis and Kate Davis are acknowledged
for their assistance in preparing/commenting upon the manuscript and preparing the figures,

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