3 years ago

Discharge controls on the sediment and dissolved nutrient transport flux of the lowermost Mississippi River: Implications for export to the ocean and for delta restoration

Lagrangian longitudinal surveys and fixed station data are utilized from the lowermost Mississippi River reach in Louisiana at high and low discharge in 2012–2013 to examine the changing stream power, sediment transport capacity, and nitrate conveyance in this backwater reach of the river. Nitrate appears to remain conservative through the backwater reach at higher discharges (>15,000 m3/s), thus, nitrate levels supplied from the catchment are those exported to the Gulf of Mexico, fueling coastal hypoxia. At lower discharges, interaction with fine sediments and organic matter stored on the bed due to estuarine and tidal processes, likely elevates nitrate levels prior to entering the Gulf: a further 1–2 week long spike in nitrate concentrations is associated with the remobilization of this sediments during the rising discharge phase of the Mississippi. Backwater characteristics are clearly observed in the study reach starting at river kilometer 703 (Vicksburg) in both longitudinal study periods. Stream power at the lowermost station is only 16% of that at Vicksburg in the high discharge survey, and 0.6% at low flow. The high-to-low discharge study differential in unit stream power at a station increases between Vicksburg and the lowermost station from a factor of 3 to 47–50 times. At high discharge, ∼30% of this energy loss can be ascribed to the removal of water to the Atchafalaya at Old River Control. Suspended sediment flux decreases downstream in the studied reach in both studies: the lowermost station has 75% of the flux at Vicksburg in the high discharge study, and 0.9% in the low discharge study. The high discharge values, given that this study was conducted during the highest rising hydrograph of the water year, are augmented by sediment resuspended from the bed that was deposited in the previous low discharge phase. Examination of this first detailed field observation studies of the backwater phenomenon in a major river, shows that observed suspended particle sizes and calculated shear velocities compare favorably with suspension coefficients derived by previous investigators using flume experiments and modeling.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0022169417306662

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