Decadal-timescale estuarine geomorphic change under future scenarios of climate and sediment supply
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Future estuarine geomorphic change, in response to climate change, sea-level rise, and watershed sediment supply, may govern ecological function, navigation, and water quality. We estimated geomorphic changes in Suisun Bay, CA, under four scenarios using a tidal-timescale hydrodynamic/sediment transport model. Computational expense and data needs were reduced using the morphological hydrograph concept and the morphological acceleration factor. The four scenarios included (1) present-day conditions; (2) sea-level rise and freshwater flow changes of 2030; (3) sea-level rise and decreased watershed sediment supply of 2030; and (4) sea-level rise, freshwater flow changes, and decreased watershed sediment supply of 2030. Sea-level rise increased water levels thereby reducing wave-induced bottom shear stress and sediment redistribution during the wind-wave season. Decreased watershed sediment supply reduced net deposition within the estuary, while minor changes in freshwater flow timing and magnitude induced the smallest overall effect. In all future scenarios, net deposition in the entire estuary and in the shallowest areas did not keep pace with sea-level rise, suggesting that intertidal and wetland areas may struggle to maintain elevation. Tidal-timescale simulations using future conditions were also used to infer changes in optical depth: though sea-level rise acts to decrease mean light irradiance, decreased suspended-sediment concentrations increase irradiance, yielding small changes in optical depth. The modeling results also assisted with the development of a dimensionless estuarine geomorphic number representing the ratio of potential sediment import forces to sediment export forces; we found the number to be linearly related to relative geomorphic change in Suisun Bay. The methods implemented here are widely applicable to evaluating future scenarios of estuarine change over decadal timescales.
© The Authors, 2009. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License. The definitive version was published in Estuaries and Coasts 33 (2010): 15-29, doi:10.1007/s12237-009-9244-y.
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