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Bedload and Suspended Load Transport in the 140-km Reach Downstream of the Mississippi River Avulsion to the Atchafalaya River

Joshi, Sanjeev, Xu, Y. Jun
Water 2017 v.9 no.9
bedload, coasts, engineering, pollution load, river deltas, river flow, rivers, sediment transport, sediments, suspended sediment, Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi, Mississippi River
The Mississippi River Delta has been continuously losing land since the 1930s due to several factors, chief of which is the reduced sediment supply. A few recent studies have estimated individual components of short-term sediment transport, i.e., bedload and suspended load, separately for some locations along the Lowermost Mississippi River (LmMR, commonly considered as the last 500-km reach of the Mississippi River before entering the Gulf of Mexico). However, the combined effects of both components on the long-term sediment supply along the river reach are still unclear. One of the major obstacles here hindering our understanding is that it is difficult and impractical to accurately measure bedloads in large alluvial rivers, such as the Mississippi. In this study, we estimated bedloads of three medium grain sizes (D50 = 0.125, 0.25 and 0.5 mm) for three locations along the uppermost 140-km reach of the LmMR: Tarbert Landing (TBL) at river kilometer (rk) 493, St Francisville (St F) at rk 419, and Baton Rouge (BTR) at rk 367.5 during 2004–2015. We also estimated suspended loads at St F during 1978–2015 and at BTR during 2004–2015 in order to discern the interactive relationship between bedloads and suspended loads. We found gradually increasing bedloads for all the three medium grain sizes from TBL (83, 41.5 and 20.75 million tons (MT), respectively) to BTR (96, 48 and 24 MT). We also found that suspended loads at TBL (reported previously) were significantly higher than those at St F and BTR during corresponding overlapping periods. Bedloads increased almost linearly with suspended loads, river discharge and river stage at the upstream locations (TBL and St F); however, such a relationship was not evident downstream at BTR. The total sediment load (bedload + suspended sediment load) was substantially higher at TBL (931 MT), while lower and nearly equal at other two downstream locations (550 MT at St F and 544 MT at BTR) during 2004–2010 (the matching period of availability of both loads). These findings indicate that the uppermost 20–25 km LmMR reach (covering TBL) has potentially entrapped substantial suspended load over the last three to four decades, while bedload transport prevails in the lower reach (covering St F and BTR). We suggest that future sediment management in the river should seek engineering solutions for moving trapped coarse sediments downstream towards the coast for the Mississippi River Delta restoration