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Modelling the sensitivity of suspended sediment profiles to tidal current and wave conditions

Heath, Michael and Sabatino, Alessandro and Serpetti, Natalia and McCaig, Chris and O'Hara Murray, Rory (2017) Modelling the sensitivity of suspended sediment profiles to tidal current and wave conditions. Ocean and Coastal Management, 147. pp. 49-66. ISSN 0964-5691

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Seawater turbidity due to suspended particulate material (SPM) is an important property of a marine ecosystem, determining the underwater light environment and many aspects of biological production and ecology. SPM concentrations are largely determined by patterns of sediment resuspension from the seabed due to shear stress caused by waves and currents. Hence planning for the construction of large scale offshore structures which will alter regional hydrodynamics needs to consider the consequences for SPM concentrations. Here we develop a one-dimensional (vertical) model of SPM dynamics which can be used to scope the effects of changes in wave and tidal current properties at a site. We implement the model for a number of sites off the east coast of Scotland where we have extensive data sets to enable numerical parameter optimisation. The model performs well at simulating fluctuations in turbidity varying from flood-ebb tidal cycles, spring-neap cycles, storm wave events, and an annual cycle of SPM concentration which is attributed to seasonal consolidation of seabed sediments. Sensitivity analysis shows that, for the range of seabed sediment types in the study (water depth 16 – 50 m; mud content 0.006 – 0.380 proportion by weight), relatively large (50%) attenuations of tidal current speed are required to produce changes in water column turbidity which would be detectable by observations given the variability in measurements. The model has potential for application to map the large scale sensitivity of turbidity distributions to the installation of wave and tidal energy extraction arrays.