EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Using a natural laboratory to quantify sediment mobility in the turbulent wake of instrument frames and offshore infrastructure. 

Christopher Unsworth, Martin Austin, and Katrien Van Landeghem
Christopher Unsworth et al.
  • School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, University in Menai Bridge, Wales (

Predicting sediment transport near the threshold of mobility is a particular challenge in coastal environments, due in part to turbulence in the wake of bedforms and infrastructure but also due to variable grain size distributions and biological processes affecting mobility. Understanding the relevant processes and having the ability to accurately predict sediment transport in shallow shelf seas are currently of pivotal importance due to the prevalence of offshore wind infrastructure being built on mobile seabeds with mixtures of sediment grain sizes.  

Bridging the gap between the small-scale detail of sediment transport to large-scale modelling is a key challenge for the community. Using a set of novel observations of suspended sediment concentration (via a multifrequency acoustic backscatter system) and turbulence (via Nortek’s Aquadopp High Resolution Doppler Profiler) from a coastal site (~15 m depth) with sandy bed sediments, we revisit the threshold of motion from the perspective of Grass’ 1970’s work by investigating the overlaps of bed shear stress and initiation of motions for the bed sediments. A section of electricity cable was attached to the seabed instrument frame so that on ebb tides turbulent wakes and sediment suspensions from interactions with the cable and frame were measured, and on flood tides a clear boundary layer flow was measured.

We create a distribution of initiation of motions from bed sediment data, and from the ADCP data we calculate distributions of bed shear stresses using a temporal filter based on the large eddy turnover time. We investigate the overlap between the two distributions to assess the temporal mobility of the sediments, and discuss how estimating these distributions (and their overlap) can be an important way of improving our predictive capability of sediment transport beyond the usual median grain size and bed shear stress methods – especially important when there are turbulent wakes from bedforms and sea bed infrastructure.

How to cite: Unsworth, C., Austin, M., and Van Landeghem, K.: Using a natural laboratory to quantify sediment mobility in the turbulent wake of instrument frames and offshore infrastructure. , EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-8006,, 2022.