Home > Explore Data & Reports > Dispersal of Mississippi and Atchafalaya Sediment on the Texas-Louisiana Shelf: Model Estimates for the Year 1993


Xu, K.H., C.K. Harris, R.D. Hetland, and J.M. Kaihatu. 2011. Dispersal of Mississippi and Atchafalaya Sediment on the Texas-Louisiana Shelf: Model Estimates for the Year 1993. Continental Shelf Research, 31(15):1558-1575. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2011.05.008

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A three-dimensional coupled hydrodynamic-sediment transport model for the Texas–Louisiana continental shelf was developed using the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) and used to represent fluvial sediment transport and deposition for the year 1993. The model included water and sediment discharge from the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya Bay, seabed resuspension, and suspended transport by currents. Input wave properties were provided by the Simulating WAves Nearshore (SWAN) model so that ROMS could estimate wave-driven bed stresses, critical to shallow-water sediment suspension. The model used temporally variable but spatially uniform winds, spatially variable seabed grain size distributions, and six sediment tracers from rivers and seabed. At the end of the year 1993, much of the modeled fluvial sediment accumulation was localized with deposition focused near sediment sources. Mississippi sediment remained within 20–40 km of the Mississippi Delta. Most Atchafalaya sediment remained landward of the 10-m isobath in the inner-most shelf south of Atchafalaya Bay. Atchafalaya sediment displayed an elongated westward dispersal pattern toward the Chenier Plain, reflecting the importance of wave resuspension and perennially westward depth-averaged currents in the shallow waters (<10 m). Due to relatively high settling velocities assumed for sediment from the Mississippi River as well as the shallowness of the shelf south of Atchafalaya Bay, most sediment traveled only a short distance before initial deposition. Little fluvial sediment could be transported into the vicinity of the “Dead Zone” (low-oxygen area) within a seasonal–annual timeframe. Near the Mississippi Delta and Atchafalaya Bay, alongshore sediment-transport fluxes always exceeded cross-shore fluxes. Estimated cumulative sediment fluxes next to Atchafalaya Bay were episodic and “stepwise-like” compared to the relatively gradual transport around the Mississippi Delta. During a large storm in March 1993, strong winds helped vertically mix the water column over the entire shelf (up to 100-m isobath), and wave shear stress dominated total bed stress. During fair-weather conditions in May 1993, however, the freshwater plumes spread onto a stratified water column, and combined wave–current shear stress only exceeded the threshold for suspending sediment in the inner-most part of the shelf.

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