Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
Ocean Sci., 3, 91–104, 2007

Special issue: Mediterranean Ocean Forecasting System: toward environmental...

Ocean Sci., 3, 91–104, 2007

  13 Feb 2007

13 Feb 2007

Modelling the cohesive sediment transport in the marine environment: the case of Thermaikos Gulf

Y. N. Krestenitis1, K. D. Kombiadou1, and Y. G. Savvidis2 Y. N. Krestenitis et al.
  • 1Laboratory of Maritime Engineering and Maritime Works, Division of Hydraulics and Environmental Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 541 24, Thessaloniki, Greece
  • 2Department of Fisheries & Aquaculture Technology, Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, 632 00, Nea Moudania, Halkidiki, Greece

Abstract. The transport of fine-grained sediments in the marine environment entails risks of pollutant intrusions from substances absorbed onto the cohesive flocks' surface, gradually released to the aquatic field. These substances include nutrients such as nitrate, phosphate and silicate compounds from drainage from fertilization of adjacent cultivated areas that enter the coastal areas through rivers and streams, or trace metals as remainders from urban and industrial activities. As a consequence, knowledge on the motion and distribution of sediment particles coming from a given pollutant source is expected to provide the 'bulk' information on pollutant distribution, necessary for determining the region of influence of the source and to estimate probable trophic levels of the seawater and potential environmental risks. In that aim a numerical model has been developed to predict the fate of the sediments introduced to the marine environment from different pollution sources, such as river outflows, erosion of the seabed, aeolian transported material and drainage systems.

The proposed three-dimensional mathematical model is based on the particle tracking method, according to which matter concentration is expressed by particles, each representing a particular amount of sedimentary mass, passively advected and dispersed by the currents. The processes affecting characteristics and propagation of sedimentary material in the marine environment, incorporated in the parameterization, apart from advection and dispersion, include cohesive sediment and near-bed processes. The movement of the particles along with variations in sedimentary characteristics and state, carried by each particle as personal information, are traced with time. Specifically, concerning transport processes, the local seawater velocity and the particle's settling control advection, whereas the random Brownian motion due to turbulence simulates turbulent diffusion. The vertical stratification of the water-column is taken into consideration by appropriate damping of the vertical diffusion term. Variations in cohesive sediment properties during the abidance in the aquatic environment include coagulation and flock break-up processes, quantification of the effects of ambient density to the density of the cohesive aggregate and the associated alterations to the falling speed of the particle. In the vicinity of the seabed, particles may deposit and gradually consolidate with time, the particles remain settled onto the bed, re-enter the flow at a later temporal point or may enter the water column for the first time, originating from the erosion of the bed. The occurrence of each of the aforementioned near-bed processes is defined according to the prevailing benthic shear stress conditions.

The mathematical model has been applied to the Thermaikos Gulf, an area of high environmental and socioeconomic importance but also a region of significant pollutant forcing from various anthropogenic activities taking place in the adjoining land. Various kinds of outputs can be extracted, such as trajectories of the overall movement of specific particles and related alterations of their characteristics with time, snapshots of the domain with respect to suspended or deposited matter and natural concentrations of sediments at every required temporal and spatial point. Indicative results from yearly and monthly simulations, using input baroclinic circulation data from the North Aegean Sea model and river discharges are presented and discussed, including outputs from a Typical One-Year Simulation (TOYS), the simulation of the period from 3 September 2001 to 31 August 2002 (S1A2) and the January 2003 experiment (J03).

The description of the processes that have been incorporated in the parameterization covers the most significant factors controlling transport and mixing of fine grained sediments in the marine environment, thus validating the accuracy and completeness of the model. One of the major advantages, apart from the observation of the phenomena in scales smaller than the grid size, describing the natural processes more accurately, is the flexibility in accepting various pollutant sources and the applicability to different domains with minor modifications. The model has been incorporated in the MFSTEP project, as part of the developed operational forecasting system for the Mediterranean Sea. The application can be used for the prognosis of the seawater quality for current and for future conditions, enabling employment as part of a near-real time observation system or to formulate decisions for the protection of the seawater environment.