Sediment Transport and Trapping in the Hudson River Estuary Academic Article uri icon


  • The Hudson River estuary has a pronounced turbidity maximum zone, in which rapid, short-term deposition of sediment occurs during and following the spring freshet. Water-column measurements of currents and suspended sediment were performed during the spring of 1999 to determine the rate and mechanisms of sediment transport and trapping in the estuary. The net convergence of sediment in the lower estuary was approximately 300,000 tons, consistent with an estimate based on sediment cores. The major input of sediment from the watershed occurred during the spring freshet, as expected. Unexpected, however, was that an even larger quantity of sediment was transported landward into the estuary during the 3-mo observation period. The landward movement was largely accomplished by tidal pumping (i.e., the correlation between concentration and velocity at tidal frequencies) during spring tides, when the concentrations were 5 to 10 times higher than during neap, tides. The landward flux is not consistent with the longterm sediment budget, which requires a seaward flux at the mouth to account for the excess input from the watershed relative to net accumulation. The anomalous, landward transport in 1999 occurred in part because the freshet was relatively weak, and the freshet occurred during neap tides when sediment resuspension was minimal. An extreme freshet occurred during 1998, which may have provided a repository of sediment just seaward of the mouth that re-entered the estuary in 1999. The amplitude of the spring freshet and its timing with respect to the spring-neap cycle cause large interannual variations in estuarine sediment flux. These variations can result in the remobilization of previously deposited sediment, the mass of which may exceed the annual inputs from the watershed.

publication date

  • October 2001