Lateral variability of sediment transport in the Delaware Estuary

Jacqueline M. McSweeney, Robert J. Chant, Christopher K. Sommerfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Lateral processes contribute significantly to circulation and material transport in estuaries. The mechanisms controlling transport may vary spatially such that shallow and deep regions of an estuary contribute differently to the total transport. An observational study was conducted to explore the importance of lateral variability in sediment transport mechanisms in the Delaware Estuary. Seven moorings were deployed across the channel in the region of the estuarine turbidity maximum (ETM) zone from April to August 2011. Time series of along-channel sediment transport reveal a consistent pattern of sediment export across the entire estuary during periods of high river discharge, followed by a transition to import within the channel and export on the flanks during low river flow. There is a persistent divergence of across-channel sediment fluxes on the Delaware side, where sediment from the flank is transported toward both the channel and wetland coast. Decomposition of the fluxes highlight that across-channel sediment transport is driven by mean lateral circulation, whereas along-channel transport is driven primarily by mean advection, with tidal pumping contributing to about 30% of total transport. The spatial and temporal variability of mean advection and tidal pumping were generally complementary, with both contributing to the observed sediment transport pathways. Tidal pumping, linked to tidal asymmetries in stratification and sediment resuspension, was shown to drive both ebb-driven export and flood-driven import depending on the tidal variability of stratification. The spatiotemporal patterns of sediment transport highlight the three-dimensional structure of the ETM and shed light on the variability of sediment transport mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)725-744
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


  • lateral estuarine processes
  • sediment transport
  • stratification
  • tidal asymmetries


Dive into the research topics of 'Lateral variability of sediment transport in the Delaware Estuary'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this