Pilditch, C. A., Widdows, J., Kuhn, N. J., Pope, N. D., & Brinsley, M. D. (2008). Effects of low tide rainfall on the erodibility of intertidal cohesive sediments. Continental Shelf Research, 28(14), 1854-1865.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8282
Low tide rainfall may represent an important but little studied process affecting sediment fluxes on intertidal mudflats. In this study, we simulated rainfall events on an intertidal mudflat (median grain size=18.4 μm) of low slope (1 in 300) then quantified effects on sediment erodibility. Treatments consisted of a high (4.1 mm min⁻¹ for 6 min) and low (0.36 mm min⁻¹ for 60 min) rain intensity, chosen to match naturally occurring events and experiments were conducted seasonally (May and August) to encompass variations in ambient sediment stability. Changes in bed elevation due to rainfall were estimated using marked rods and sediment erodibility parameters (mass of sediment eroded at a flow velocity of 0.3 m s⁻¹ (ME-30, g m⁻²) and critical erosion velocity (Ucrit, m s⁻¹)) were determined in annular flumes (bed area=0.17 m²). Ambient/control sediment erodibility in May (ME-30=211 g m⁻², Ucrit=0.18 m s⁻¹) was higher than in August (ME-30=30 g m⁻², Ucrit=0.26 m s⁻¹) and was correlated with changes in biological activity. In May, surface sediment was influenced by high densities of the bioturbating snail Hydrobia ulvae (1736 ind. m⁻²) and low biomass of the sediment stabilising microphytobenthos (5.7 μg chlorophyll a cm⁻²). In contrast, in August H. ulvae densities were low (52 ind. m⁻²) and microphytobenthic biomass higher (9.2 μg chlorophyll a cm⁻²). The high rain treatment caused a decrease in bed elevation of between 1.5 mm (May) and 4.4 mm (August) and significantly reduced sediment organic content and microphytobenthic biomass. Rainfall increased sediment erodibility; compared to ambient sediments ME-30 increased by a factor of 1.4× in May and 8.8× in August and caused a 10–30% decline in Ucrit. The seasonal difference in treatment effect was due to the change in ambient sediment stability. The low rain treatment in August had no effect on bed elevation, microphytobenthic biomass or sediment erodibility. In May, the same treatment caused a reduction in bed elevation (0.5 mm) and microphytobenthic biomass but counter-intuitively, a decrease in sediment erodibility (ME-30 was reduced by 40%, Ucrit increased by 5%) compared to controls. We attribute this result to removal by rainfall of easily eroded surface flocs and biogenic roughness which resulted in an underlying sediment with a smoother surface and greater resistant to erosion. Results suggest that high intensity rain events may destabilise intertidal sediments making them more susceptible to erosion by returning tidal currents and that the sediment eroded during such events may represent a considerable fraction (up to 25%) of the seasonal variation in shore elevation. The impact of natural rain events are likely to vary considerably due to variations in droplet size, intensity and duration and the interaction with ambient sediment stability