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Keywords:

  • Huanghe (Yellow River) mouth;
  • hyperpycnal flows;
  • sediment transport;
  • suspended sediment concentration;
  • tidal mixing

Abstract

Few hyperpycnal flows have ever been observed in marine environments although they are believed to play a critical role in sediment dispersal within estuarine and deltaic depositional systems. The paper describes hyperpycnal flows observed in situ off the Huanghe (Yellow River) mouth, their relationship to tidal cycles, and the mechanisms that drive them. Simultaneous observations at six mooring stations during a cruise off the Huanghe mouth in the flood season of 1995 suggest that hyperpycnal flows observed at the river mouth are initiated by high concentrations of sediment input from river and modulated by tides. Hyperpycnal flows started near the end of ebb tides, when near-bottom suspended sediment concentration (SSC) increased rapidly and salinity decreased drastically (an inverse salt wedge). The median grain size of suspended particles within the hyperpycnal layer increased, causing strong stratification of the suspended sediments in the water column. Towards the end of flood tides, the hyperpycnal flow attenuated due to frictions at the upper and lower boundaries of the flow and tidal mixing, which collapsed the stratification of the water column. Both sediment concentration and median grain size of suspended particles within the bottom layer significantly decreased. The coarser sediment particles were deposited and the hyperpycnal flows stopped. The intra-tidal behaviors of hyperpycnal flows are closely associated with the variations of SSC, salinity, and stratification of the water column. As nearly 90% of riverine sediment is delivered to the sea during the flood seasons when hyperpycnal flows are active, hyperpycnal flows at the Huanghe mouth and the river's high sediment loads have caused rapid accretion of the Huanghe delta. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.