Coastal and deltaic sediment balances are crucial for a region's sustainability. However, such balances remain difficult to quantify accurately, particularly for large regions. We calculate organic and mineral sediment mass and volume balances using field measurements from 273 Coastwide Reference Monitoring System sites across the Louisiana Coast between 2006 and 2015. The rapid relative sea level rise rate (average 13.4 mm/year) is offset by the small dry bulk densities observed (average 0.3 g/cm3) to produce a 16.2 ± 41.1% mass deficit and 24.1 ± 14.0% volume deficit, significantly smaller than recent predictions for 2000–2100 (73–79% mass deficit). Geostatisical estimates show that this deficit is primarily located in areas not directly nourished by major rivers, yet these regions still accumulate ~24 MT/year of mineral sediment. A fluvial sediment discharge of 113.8 MT/year suggests a coast‐wide trapping efficiency of 31.5 ± 15.8% of the riverine sediment, excluding subaqueous deposition. Organic accumulation accounts for 25% of all mass accumulation during our study period, and total organic mass accumulation per unit area is relatively constant in both directly and indirectly nourished regions. Sediment characteristics in the modern coastal wetlands differ from the Holocene deposit, suggesting secular changes within the system that will likely continue to influence coastal dynamics over the coming decades. Our results suggest that the gap between accommodation and accumulation (mass or volume) during this decade was not as large as the previously predicted century average.
Arising from the non‐uniform dispersal of sediment and water that build deltaic landscapes, morphological change is a fundamental characteristic of river delta behavior. Thus, sustainable deltas require mobility of their channel networks and attendant shifts in landforms. Both behaviors can be misrepresented as degradation, particularly in context of the “stability” that is generally necessitated by human infrastructure and economies. Taking the Ganges‐Brahmaputra‐Meghna Delta as an example, contrary to public perception, this delta system appears to be sustainable at a system scale with high sediment delivery and long‐term net gain in land area. However, many areas of the delta exhibit local dynamics and instability at the scale at which households and communities experience environmental change. Such local landscape “instability” is often cited as evidence that the delta is in decline, whereas much of this change simply reflects the morphodynamics typical of an energetic fluvial‐delta system and do not provide an accurate reflection of overall system health. Here we argue that this disparity between unit‐scale sustainability and local morphodynamic change may be typical of deltaic systems with well‐developed distributary networks and strong spatial gradients in sediment supply and transport energy. Such non‐uniformity and the important connections between network sub‐units (i.e., fluvial, tidal, shelf) suggest that delta risk assessments must integrate local dynamics and sub‐unit connections with unit‐scale behaviors. Structure and dynamics of an integrated deltaic network control the dispersal of water, solids, and solutes to the delta sub‐environment and thus the local to unit‐scale sustainability of the system over time.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
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- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
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- Earth's Future
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Deltaic river networks naturally reorganize as interconnected channels move to redistribute water, sediment, and nutrients across the delta plain. Network change is documented in decades of satellite imagery and laboratory experiments, but our ability to measure and understand channel movements is limited: existing methods are difficult to employ efficiently and struggle to distinguish between gradual movements (channel migration) and abrupt shifts in river course (channel avulsions). Here, we present a method to extract channel migration from plan‐view imagery using particle image velocimetry (PIV). Although originally designed to track particles moving in a fluid, PIV can be adapted to track channels moving on the delta surface, based on input estimates of channel width, migration timescale, and maps of the wet‐dry interface. Results for a delta experiment show that PIV‐derived vector fields accurately capture channel‐bank movements, as compared to manually drawn maps and an independent image‐registration technique. Unlike other methods, PIV targets the process of channel migration, excluding changes associated with channel avulsions and overbank flow. PIV‐derived migration rates from the experiment span an order of magnitude and are reduced under lower sediment supply and during sea‐level rise, supporting recent models. Together, results indicate that PIV offers a fast and reliable way to measure channel migration in river networks, that channel migration rates under non‐cohesive conditions can displace channels a distance comparable to their width in the time needed to aggrade ∼10% of the channel depth, and that migration direction is ∼60% orthogonal to mean flow direction and ∼40% flow‐parallel overall.
Abstract River deltas all over the world are sinking beneath sea-level rise, causing significant threats to natural and social systems. This is due to the combined effects of anthropogenic changes to sediment supply and river flow, subsidence, and sea-level rise, posing an immediate threat to the 500–1,000 million residents, many in megacities that live on deltaic coasts. The Mississippi River Deltaic Plain (MRDP) provides examples for many of the functions and feedbacks, regarding how human river management has impacted source-sink processes in coastal deltaic basins, resulting in human settlements more at risk to coastal storms. The survival of human settlement on the MRDP is arguably coupled to a shifting mass balance between a deltaic landscape occupied by either land built by the Mississippi River or water occupied by the Gulf of Mexico. We developed an approach to compare 50 % L:W isopleths (L:W is ratio of land to water) across the Atchafalaya and Terrebonne Basins to test landscape behavior over the last six decades to measure delta instability in coastal deltaic basins as a function of reduced sediment supply from river flooding. The Atchafalaya Basin, with continued sediment delivery, compared to Terrebonne Basin, with reduced river inputs, allow us to test assumptions of how coastal deltaic basins respond to river management over the last 75 years by analyzing landward migration rate of 50 % L:W isopleths between 1932 and 2010. The average landward migration for Terrebonne Basin was nearly 17,000 m (17 km) compared to only 22 m in Atchafalaya Basin over the last 78 years (p\0.001), resulting in migration rates of 218 m/year (0.22 km/year) and\0.5 m/year, respectively. In addition, freshwater vegetation expanded in Atchafalaya Basin since 1949 compared to migration of intermediate and brackish marshes landward in the Terrebonne Basin. Changes in salt marsh vegetation patterns were very distinct in these two basins with gain of 25 % in the Terrebonne Basin compared to 90 % decrease in the Atchafalaya Basin since 1949. These shifts in vegetation types as L:W ratio decreases with reduced sediment input and increase in salinity also coincide with an increase in wind fetch in Terrebonne Bay. In the upper Terrebonne Bay, where the largest landward migration of the 50 % L:W ratio isopleth occurred, we estimate that the wave power has increased by 50–100 % from 1932 to 2010, as the bathymetric and topographic conditions changed, and increase in maximum storm-surge height also increased owing to the landward migration of the L:W ratio isopleth. We argue that this balance of land relative to water in this delta provides a much clearer understanding of increased flood risk from tropical cyclones rather than just estimates of areal land loss. We describe how coastal deltaic basins of the MRDP can be used as experimental landscapes to provide insights into how varying degrees of sediment delivery to coastal deltaic floodplains change flooding risks of a sinking delta using landward migrations of 50 % L:W isopleths. The nonlinear response of migrating L:W isopleths as wind fetch increases is a critical feedback effect that should influence human river-management decisions in deltaic coast. Changes in land area alone do not capture how corresponding landscape degradation and increased water area can lead to exponential increase in flood risk to human populations in low-lying coastal regions. Reduced land formation in coastal deltaic basins (measured by changes in the land:water ratio) can contribute significantly to increasing flood risks by removing the negative feedback of wetlands on wave and storm-surge that occur during extreme weather events. Increased flood risks will promote population migration as human risks associated with living in a deltaic landscape increase, as land is submerged and coastal inundation threats rise. These system linkages in dynamic deltaic coasts define a balance of river management and human settlement dependent on a certain level of land area within coastal deltaic basins (L).more » « less
Rising sea levels, subsidence, and decreased fluvial sediment load threaten river deltas and their wetlands. However, the feedbacks between fluvial and non‐fluvial (marsh) deposition remain weakly constrained. We investigate how non‐riverine, elevation‐controlled deposition typified by marshes impacts sediment partitioning between a delta's topset, coastal zone, and foreset by comparing a delta experiment with proxy marsh accumulation to a control. Marsh accumulation alters fluvial sediment distribution by decreasing the slope in the marsh window by ∼50%, creating a 78% larger marsh zone. Fluvial incursions into the marsh window trap 1.3 times more clastic volume. The volume exported to deep water remains unchanged. Marsh deposition shifts elevation distributions toward sea level, which produces a hypsometry akin to field‐scale deltas. The elevation‐lowering effect of marshes on an equilibrium delta shown here constitutes an unexplored feedback and an important aspect of coastal sustainability.
River deltas are dynamic systems whose channels can widen, narrow, migrate, avulse, and bifurcate to form new channel networks through time. With hundreds of millions of people living on these globally ubiquitous systems, it is critically important to understand and predict how delta channel networks will evolve over time. Although much work has been done to understand drivers of channel migration on the individual channel scale, a global-scale analysis of the current state of delta morphological change has not been attempted. In this study, we present a methodology for the automatic extraction of channel migration vectors from remotely sensed imagery by combining deep learning and principles from particle image velocimetry (PIV). This methodology is implemented on 48 river delta systems to create a global dataset of decadal-scale delta channel migration. By comparing delta channel migration distributions with a variety of known external forcings, we find that global patterns of channel migration can largely be reconciled with the level of fluvial forcing acting on the delta, sediment flux magnitude, and frequency of flood events. An understanding of modern rates and patterns of channel migration in river deltas is critical for successfully predicting future changes to delta systems and for informing decision makers striving for deltaic resilience.