Continental Shelf Research

Sand dynamics in the Mekong River channel and export to the coastal ocean

Aug 4, 2017

Author(s): Stephens, J.D., M.A. Allison, H.D. Weathers III, A.S. Ogston, R.L. McLachlan, F. Xing, E.A. Meselhe

Two field campaigns were conducted in the tidal and estuarine reach of the Sông Hậu distributary of the Mekong River to explore the dynamics of sand transport and export to the coastal ocean. This study examines variations in suspended sand concentration and net flux of suspended and bedload sand with respect to changes in discharge between the October 2014 high discharge and March 2015 low discharge season. Isokinetic measurements of suspended sand were used to calibrate a larger dataset of LISST profiles to report suspended sand mass concentrations. During the high discharge season, ebb and flood currents are a primary control on suspended sand concentrations. Ebb tidal flows are more capable of sand transport than flooding flows, due to river discharge augmenting tidal currents. Sand in suspension is primarily derived locally from bed material sand. Bedform transport estimates were limited, but suggest that bedload sand transport is less than 10% of net suspended sand flux. Very low concentrations of suspended sand sediment are found during the low discharge season. These low concentrations are likely caused by (1) a reduction in maximum ebb tide shear stresses associated with less freshwater input, and (2) mud mantling in the bed associated with upstream migration of estuarine circulation, that inhibits local sourcing (resuspension) of bed sand. Results of the observational study were used to calibrate a numerical model of annual sand flux to the ocean from all distributaries of the Mekong River. Annual sand export is estimated at 6.5 ± 1.6 Mt yr−1. The Định An subdistributary accounts for 32% of this total while the smaller Trần Đề subdistributary accounts for only 9%. Abstract here.