The Importance of Suppression of Turbulence by Stratification on the Estuarine Turbidity Maximum Academic Article uri icon


  • A simple numerical model demonstrates that the reduction in turbulence due to stratification greatly enhances the trapping of suspended sediment that occurs at the estuarine turbidity maximum. In moderately and highly stratified estuaries the turbulent diffusivity decreases markedly between the region upstream of the salinity intrusion, where the turbulence is uninhibited by salt stratification, and the stratified regime within the salinity intrusion, where turbulence is reduced by the inhibitory influence of salt stratification. This reduction in turbulent diffusion results in a reduction in the quantity of sediment that can be carried by the flow, causing sediment to be trapped near the landward limit of the salinity intrusion. This trapping process occurs at the same location as that due to the estuarine convergence, but it appears to be many times more effective at trapping silt-size particles. A model is formulated that is similar to Festa and Hansen’s (1978) model of the estuarine turbidity maximum, with the addition of a stratification-dependent eddy diffusivity. For silt-size sediment particles, the model indicates as much as a 20-fold increase in the trapping rate with inclusion of the stratification effect. It is likely that this mechanism is important in many partially mixed and highly stratified estuaries.

publication date

  • March 1993