Wave and tidal current sorting of shelf sediments southwest of England



The relative roles of waves and tidal currents in transporting bottom sediment on the continental shelf off Lands End, southwest England, are evaluated by study of (a) sediment grain size in relation to boundary layer measurements in tidal currents, (b) regional variation in sediment parameters in relation to peak tidal and wave-induced currents, and (c) visual observation of bedforms.

(a) The sediments are mainly zoogenic sands. The average hydraulic equivalent median diameter is Mdφ=1.40φ (medium grade sand), and two-thirds of the median grain sizes fall between 0.97φ and 1.83φ. The linear bottom current which will just move this range of sizes is exceeded only slightly by the highest tidal drag velocities Ū* measured in the area. Thus, sediment movement by tidal currents alone is restricted to areas of high bed roughness and strong peak tidal flows. In contrast, wave-induced oscillatory currents at 100 m depth (typical of the area) attain sufficient speed to disturb the same particle sizes over 3% of the time. This includes storm periods when much greater velocities occur.

(b) The average Mdφ of the sediment decreases southwest and northeast from south of the Lizard. This correlates well with the pattern of maximum tidal current speeds, suggesting that tidal currents control the areal distribution of sediment median grain size.

Most sediments are well sorted (mean σi=0.48φ). Sorting improves at shallower depths but does not improve in areas of faster tidal currents, suggesting that wave-induced currents exert the major control on sorting.

Silt and clay proportions increase west of the Scilly Isles and are influenced by both wave and tidal currents.

(c) Photographs and television pictures show that symmetrical bedforms due to wave action are dominant north and west of the western Channel. Asymmetric bedforms are more common in the western Channel itself, where tidal currents and bed roughness are both high.

Results are used to construct a sediment transport model for the study area. Since medium grade well sorted sands occur in depths of over 100 m, many ancient, extensive, well sorted sand sheets may have been deposited at depths greater than previously suspected.