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Suspended sediment transport in the Gulf of Lions (NW Mediterranean): Impact of extreme storms and floods

Abstract : In situ observations were combined with 3D modeling to gain understanding of and to quantify the suspended sediment transport in the Gulf of Lions (NW Mediterranean Sea). The outputs of a hydrodynamic–sediment transport coupled model were compared to near-bottom current and suspended sediment concentration measurements collected at the head of seven submarine canyons and at a shallow shelf site, over a 6-month period (November 2003–May 2004). The comparisons provide a reasonable validation of the model that reproduces the observed spatial and time variations. The study period was marked by an unusual occurrence of marine storms and high river inputs. The major water and sediment discharges were supplied by the Rhone, the largest Mediterranean river, during an exceptional flood accompanying a severe marine storm in early December 2003. A second major storm, with moderate flooding, occurred in February 2004. The estimate of river input during the studied period was 5.9 Mt. Our study reveals (i) that most of the particulate matter delivered by the Rhone was entrapped on the prodelta, and (ii) that marine storms played a crucial role on the sediment dispersal on the shelf and the off-shelf export. The marine storms occurring in early December 2003 and late February 2004 resuspended a very large amount of shelf sediment (>8 Mt). Erosion was controlled by waves on the inner shelf and by energetic currents on the outer shelf. Sediment deposition took place in the middle part of the shelf, between 50 and 100 m depth. Resuspended sediments and river-borne particles were transported to the southwestern end of the shelf by a cyclonic circulation induced by these onshore winds and exported towards the Catalan shelf and into the Cap de Creus Canyon which incises the slope close to the shore. Export taking place mostly during marine storms was estimated to reach 9.1 Mt during the study period.
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C. Ulses, C. Estournel, Xavier Durrieu de Madron, A. Palanques. Suspended sediment transport in the Gulf of Lions (NW Mediterranean): Impact of extreme storms and floods. Continental Shelf Research, Elsevier, 2008, 28 (15), pp.2048-2070. ⟨10.1016/j.csr.2008.01.015⟩. ⟨hal-00518965⟩

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