Importance of wind conditions, fetch, and water levels on wave-generated shear stresses in shallow intertidal basins



[1] Wave-generated shear stresses are the main mechanism responsible for sediment erosion on tidal flats and regulate both sediment concentrations in the water column and, together with tidal currents, sediment export to salt marshes and to the ocean. We present herein a simple method to estimate sediment erosion potential in shallow tidal basins caused by wind wave events. The method determines the aggregate response of the entire basin, combining in a simple framework the contribution from different landscape units. The method is applied to a system of shallow tidal basins along the Eastern Shore of Virginia, USA. Our analysis unravels the interplay of basin morphology, tidal elevation, and wind direction on water depth, fetch, and the resulting wave-generated shear stresses. We identify four bottom shear stress regimes as a function of water elevation produced by wind waves in shallow micromesotidal systems. For water elevations below mean lower low water (MLLW), an increase in fetch is counteracted by an increase in depth, so that the average bottom shear stress and erosion potential is maintained constant. For elevations between MLLW and mean sea level (MSL), the increase in water depth dominates the increase in wave height, thus reducing the bottom shear stresses. For elevations between MSL and mean higher high water (MHHW), the range associated with stable salt marsh platforms, flooding of salt marshes increases fetch, wave height, and bottom shear stresses, producing the largest resuspension events in the bay. For elevations above MHHW, the increase in depth once again dominates increases in wave height, thereby reducing average bottom shear stresses and potential erosion.