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The evolution of the fine sediment regime of the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel

Kirby, R.
Biological journal of the Linnean Society 1994 v.51 no.1/2 pp. 37-44
alluvium, coasts, estuaries, evolution, rivers, salt marshes, sand, sea level
Fine sediment forms tidal flats along most of the Severn Estuary coastline but subtidal deposits are localized, mainly confined to Newport Deep and Bridgwater Bay. The estuary is experiencing a period of sea level rise which has led to coastal mud erosion in recent centuries. Sediment exchanges with the sea and river inputs are negligible compared to the large-scale exchanges within the estuary itself. Measurements of tidal flat level changes, archaeological finds and anthropogenic chemical concentrations confirm that mud flat erosion is long term and typical of the entire estuary. Sea level rise and coast erosion would normally lead to much of this sediment being redeposited inshore at the landward limit of the alluvium. Other than in narrow salt marsh strips, such deposition is prevented in the Severn by the river walls. In cores of subtidal muddy sediment, the number and thickness of sand layers decreases upwards. The top metre or so is entirely mud and exhibits thousands of layers of varying thickness and origin. Radiochemical analysis confirms that mud is accumulating in the subtidal zone of Newport Deep and the seaward periphery of the Bridgwater Bay mud patch and is increasing in proportion to sand. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that for at least the last 600 years the dominant pattern has been one of erosion of fine sediment from the coastal margin and its accumulation in subtidal sinks.