Dynamics, sediment transport, and morphology in a tide-dominated embayment



Western Port, Victoria, Australia is a tide-dominated embayment with an unusual and complex shape. Bottom currents and circulation and their effects on sediment processes were examined using instrumented tripods to measure currents, tides and wave activity, and to estimate sediment transport at nine locations in the bay. Overall bottom water movement patterns were determined by use of seabed drifters.

The characteristics of the bay reflect a small catchment and low freshwater and sediment input. A complex system of channels is flanked by extensive intertidal areas.

Tidal range varies up to more than 3 m, generating bottom currents up to 70cm s−1. Flow directions generally conform to channel alignments but major deviations are important. Net circulation in the bay is clockwise around the large central island. The ratio of tidal range to half-tidal period (ΔHT) when compared with measured currents gave a method of prediction of the annual frequency distribution of maximum bottom current velocities.

Determination of threshold current velocities enabled prediction of annual frequency of bedload movement (generally 50–100 per cent of tide cycles). Bedload mass transport for all observed tide cycles was calculated, and estimates of annual mass transport capacity (between 102 and 106 g cm−1 a−1( were obtained from a relationship between predicted tidal conditions and mass transport.

Seabed drifters delineated the major bottom water movements in the bay and adjacent Bass Strait, and also detailed circulation patterns. This linked the data from the tripod stations, in particular patterns of ebb- and flood-dominance.

A coherent picture of the processes operating in Western Port is presented by integrating these studies with corroborative studies of sediment distribution and morphology, hydrochemistry, and mathematical modelling. Some morphological characteristics related to tide-dominance are discussed.