Morphological and sedimentological response of a mixed-energy barrier island tidal inlet to storm and fair-weather conditions
The environment of ebb-tidal deltas between barrier island systems is characterized by a complex morphology with ebb- and flood-dominated channels, shoals and swash bars connecting the ebb-tidal delta platform to the adjacent island. These morphological features reveal characteristic surface sediment grain-size distributions and are subject to a continuous adaptation to the prevailing hydrodynamic forces. The mixed-energy tidal inlet Otzumer Balje between the East Frisian barrier islands of Langeoog and Spiekeroog in the southern North Sea has been chosen here as a model study area for the identification of relevant hydrodynamic drivers of morphology and sedimentology. We compare the effect of high-energy, wave-dominated storm conditions to mid-term, tide-dominated fair-weather conditions on tidal inlet morphology and sedimentology with a process-based numerical model. A multi-fractional approach with five grain-size fractions between 150 and 450 μm allows for the simulation of corresponding surface sediment grain-size distributions. Net sediment fluxes for distinct conditions are identified: during storm conditions, bed load sediment transport is generally onshore directed on the shallower ebb-tidal delta shoals, whereas fine-grained suspended sediment bypasses the tidal inlet by wave-driven currents. During fair weather the sediment transport mainly focuses on the inlet throat and the marginal flood channels. We show how the observed sediment grain-size distribution and the morphological response at mixed-energy tidal inlets are the result of both wave-dominated less frequent storm conditions and mid-term, tide-dominant fair-weather conditions.