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Observed and modelled tidal bar sedimentology reveals preservation bias against mud in estuarine stratigraphy
Braat, L.; Pierik, H.J.; van Dijk, W.M.; van de Lageweg, W.; Brückner, M.Z.M.; van der Meulen, B.; Kleinhans, M.G. (2023). Observed and modelled tidal bar sedimentology reveals preservation bias against mud in estuarine stratigraphy. Depositional Record 9(2): 380-402.
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Braat, L.
  • Pierik, H.J.
  • van Dijk, W.M.
  • van de Lageweg, W., meer
  • Brückner, M.Z.M.
  • van der Meulen, B.
  • Kleinhans, M.G., meer

    Mud plays a pivotal role in estuarine ecology and morphology. However, field data on the lateral and vertical depositional record of mud are rare. Furthermore, numerical morphodynamic models often ignore mud due to long computational times and simplifications of mixed depositional processes. This study aims to understand the spatial distribution, formative conditions and preservation of mud deposits in the intertidal zone of bars in high-energy sand-dominated estuaries, and to elucidate the effects of mud on morphology, ecology and stratigraphic architecture. To meet these objectives, field data (historic bathymetry, bio-morphological maps and sediment cores of the shoal of Walsoorden, Western Scheldt estuary, the Netherlands) were combined with complementary hydro-morphodynamic numerical modelling (Delft3D). Based on the field observations, two types of mud deposits were distinguished: (1) mudflat deposits, which are thick (>10 cm) mud beds at the surface associated with high elevations and low accumulation rates; and (2) mud drapes, which are thin (millimetre to centimetre) buried laminae that form and preserve at a wide range of elevations and energy conditions. Model results show that deposition on mudflats occurs just after high-tide slack water in areas shielded from high flood velocities, suggesting that mud accumulation is mostly controlled by elevation, flow velocity and flow direction. Mud accumulation increases shoal elevation, sometimes to supratidal levels. This reduces flow over the shoal, which in turn reduces chute channel formation, stabilises bar morphology and decreases local tidal prism. These effects further promote mud deposition and vegetation settling. Although observations show that mud cover at the surface is relatively high (20%–40% of the intertidal area), mud constitutes only a small percentage of the total estuary volume (ca 5%) revealing that only a small fraction is preserved in the stratigraphy. Due to this mismatch between surface and subsurface expression of mud, interpretations of estuarine stratigraphy risk underestimating the influence of mud at the surface on morphodynamics and habitats.

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