Rivers that traverse the terrestrial‐marine interface may have lower reaches that are influenced by both terrestrial and marine processes. However, only a handful of studies have focused on how the interactions of fluvial and tidal processes translate to channel geomorphology, and those are largely from delta/distributary systems. Here we quantify channel properties along the fluvial‐tidal transition reach of a coastal plain river and provide insight into their origins. The study site is a 47 km long tidal, single‐thread freshwater section of a river at 29 to 76 river kilometers inland of the estuary mouth, upstream of the delta/distributary system, and with average riverbed slope of 10−4. Results show that a tidal wave approaching the study reach loses 15%–17% of its incident energy (per horizontal area) per kilometer of channel, and at 51 km upstream of the mouth the incident energy is reduced to <1%. Also, at or near 51 km we observed breaks in along‐channel trends of channel cross‐section geometry, bed grain size, sinuosity, channel bed and water surface slopes. We propose that fluvial‐tidal flow processes and corresponding geomorphic feedbacks are apparent as abrupt changes in channel properties that highlight the influence of tides, and these discontinuities may be endemic to fluvial‐tidal transition zones in general. How these transition reaches self‐adjust in response to climate change remains largely unexplored but these reaches are likely to become important geomorphic hotspots.
Tidal freshwater zones (TFZs) are transitional environments between terrestrial and coastal waters. TFZs have freshwater chemistry and tidal physics, and yet are neither river nor estuary based on classic definitions. Such zones have been occasionally discussed in the literature but lack a consistent nomenclature and framework for study. This work proposes a measurable definition for TFZs based on three longitudinal points of interest: (1) the upstream limit of brackish water, (2) the upstream limit of bidirectional tidal velocities, and (3) the upstream limit of tidal stage fluctuations. The resulting size and position of a TFZ is transient and depends on the balance of tidal and riverine forces that evolves over event, tidal, seasonal, and annual (or longer) timescales. The concept, definition, and transient analysis of TFZ position are illustrated using field observations from the Aransas River (Texas, USA) from July 2015 to July 2016. The median Aransas TFZ length was 59.9 km, with a late summer maximum of 66.0 km and a winter minimum of 53.6 km. The TFZ typically (annual median) began 11.8 km upstream from the river mouth (15.4 km winter/11.2 km summer medians) and ended 71.7 km upstream (69.0 km/77.2 km). Seasonally low baseflow in the Aransas River promoted gradual coastal salt encroachment upstream, which shortened the TFZ. However, sporadic large rainfall/runoff events rapidly elongated the TFZ. The TFZ definition establishes a quantifiable framework for analyzing these critical freshwater systems that reside at the nexus of natural and human‐influenced hydrology, tides, and climate.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Water Resources Research
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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