Suspension of bed material over lateral sand bars in the Lower Mississippi River, Southeastern Louisiana
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Understanding specific pathways for sand transport in the lower reaches of large rivers, particularly the Mississippi, is the key to addressing multiple significant geologic problems and for environmental restoration efforts. Field studies were performed in the Mississippi River 75-100 km upstream of the Gulf of Mexico outlet in April 2010 (water discharge: 23,000 m³ s⁻¹), May 2010 (18,500-20,500 m³ s⁻¹), and March 2011 (27,000 m³ s⁻¹) to examine sediment transport phenomena in the river channel. Methods comprised multibeam sonar bathymetric surveys, acoustic Doppler current profiler measurements of current velocity and acoustic backscatter, point-integrated isokinetic suspended sediment sampling, and channel-bed grab sampling. Channel morphology surveys revealed a 30-60 m deep thalweg, alternating between banks every 2-3 km, opposite bedform-covered lateral sand bars. Dune sizes nearest the thalweg ranged from 7 m wavelength and 0.3 m height to over 100 m wavelength and 2.3 m height as a function of water discharge, with decreasing dune sizes towards shallow water. Material comprising the dunes was well-sorted, 125-500 [mu]m sand. Bedload transport rates increased exponentially with water discharge in April 2010 and March 2011 comparable to previous studies in this reach, though rates in May 2011 were well below predicted values for a site (Myrtle Grove) immediately downriver of a sand-mining project. Average water velocities ranged from 1.3 m s⁻¹ in May 2010 to 2 m s⁻¹ in March 2011. Skin-friction shear stress increased with water discharge, but varied over an order of magnitude at all measured discharges. Suspended sand concentration and grain size increased with proximity to the bed during all study periods, and was most pronounced in March 2011. Suspended sand concentrations were greatest over the center of lateral bars, and lowest in the thalweg, indicating that sand transport downstream occurs primarily over lateral sand bars where there is a combination of high shear stress and available bed material. Total bed-material discharge increased exponentially with water discharge. Bedform-induced turbulence may be responsible for the bed material suspension. These results are relevant to coastal restoration efforts by river diversion which seek to distribute sand from the upper water column to deltaic interdistributary wetlands.