Gravitational circulation as driver of upstream migration of estuarine sand dunes

W. M. Sande*, P. C. Roos, T. Gerkema, S. J. M. H. Hulscher

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Sand dunes are large-scale rhythmic bed patterns commonly occurring in sandy shelf seas, estuaries and rivers. Field observations of sand dunes in the Gironde estuary (France) have suggested that the gravitational circulation may cause seasonal reversal of asymmetry, which is linked to migration direction. In this study, we aim to unravel the influence of gravitational circulation on the migration of estuarine sand dunes. To this end, we present an idealized process-based sand dune model with tide and river forcing, and the addition of a longitudinal salinity gradient (imposed diagnostically) that induces gravitational circulation. Linear stability analysis shows the emergence of dunes from a flat bed and confirms that reversal of dune migration may occur, provided the gravitational circulation is sufficiently strong compared to the river flow velocity. Lastly, we show that the migration direction of estuarine sand dunes is not necessarily the same as the direction of net sediment transport.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021GL093337
Number of pages10
JournalGeophysical research letters
Issue number14
Early online date30 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2021


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