Morphological Response of a Highly Engineered Estuary to Altering Channel Depth and Restoring Wetlands

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Estuaries are continuously adapting to anthropogenic pressure. Because of sea-level rise and reduced fluvial sediment supply, they are at risk of sediment starvation. Contrarily, some estuaries require frequent dredging after artificially deepening the channel to maintain port operations. To optimize current estuarine functions and make estuaries more resilient to future threats, improved understanding of estuarine development after system changes is essential. This paper investigates the estuarine response related to two large-scale human interventions: (1) altering channel depth, following global trends of channel deepening for port navigability; and (2) creating or restoring wetlands, a nature-based solution increasingly explored for its ecosystem services. A schematized 2D-morphological model is set up using Delft3D-FM reflecting a highly engineered estuary in a micro-tidal and wave-dominant environment. Results demonstrate how channel deepening (from 13 m to 17 m, without wetland presence) increased sedimentation in the channel by +31%. Sedimentation rates in the wetland were mostly unaffected by channel depth. After restoring the wetland area (wetland width from 0 km to 1 km, constant channel depth of 15 m), sedimentation within the channel was reduced by −72
%. The wetland area not only served as sediment sink, but also increased the tidal flow, diminishing sedimentation throughout the estuarine channel. Further analysis showed that restoring wetland areas along a specific segment mostly affected channel sedimentation locally (i.e., at the channel segment along the restored wetland). As such, to alleviate dredging operations at critical locations in the navigation channel, strategic restoration of wetlands can be considered which can provide a sustainable alternative to dredging within highly engineered estuaries.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2150
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of marine science and engineering
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2023


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