• Dunes;
  • flow separation;
  • sediment dynamics;
  • turbulence

This study examines flow, turbulence and sand suspension over large dunes in Canoe Pass, a distributary channel of the Fraser River delta, Canada. Dune morphology is characterized by a symmetrical shape and steep leeside slopes over 30°. Velocity was measured with an electromagnetic current meter and suspended sand concentration with four optical backscatter (OBS) probes. The general patterns of time-averaged velocity and sand suspension are consistent with previous studies, including an increase in mean velocity and decrease in turbulence intensity and sand concentration with height above the bed, reversed flow with high turbulence intensity and high sand concentrations in the leeside flow separation zone and an increase in near-bed velocity and sand concentration along the stoss side of the dune. Frequency spectra of near-bed velocity and OBS records from leeside separation zones are composed of two distinct frequencies, providing field confirmation of scale relations based on flume experiments. The low-frequency spectral signal probably results from wake flapping and the high-frequency signal from vortex shedding. The wake-flapping frequency predominates outside the separation zone and is linked to turbulent structures that suspend sand. Predictions from a depth-scale Strouhal Law show good agreement with measured wake-flapping frequencies. Cross-correlations of OBS records reveal that turbulent sand suspension structures advect downstream at 23–25° above the horizontal. These advection angles are similar to coherent flow structures measured in flumes and to sand suspension structures visualized over large dunes in the field.