Interannual variability of sorted bedforms in the coastal German Bight (SE North Sea)


Sorted bedforms are ubiquitous on the inner continental shelves worldwide. They are described as spatially-grain-size-sorted features consisting of small rippled medium-to-coarse sand and can remain stable for decades. However, the knowledge about their genesis and development is still fragmentary. For this study, a representative investigation area (water depth<15 m) located on the shelf west of the island of Sylt (SE North Sea, Germany) was periodically surveyed with hydroacoustic means (i.e. sidescan sonar, multibeam echo sounder, and sub-bottom profiler) during 2010–2014. Since this area is influenced by tidal and wind-driven currents, the aim was to detect and examine interannual variabilities in the characteristics of the prevailing sorted bedforms. Our measurements reveal sinuous stripes of rippled medium sand which are embedded in shallow symmetrical depressions. These domains are surrounded by relatively smooth fine-sand areas. These sorted bedforms were identified as flow-transverse features that are maintained by ebb and flood currents of almost equal strengths that flow in opposite directions. This bidirectional flow field generates sharp boundaries between the medium- and fine-sand domains in both current directions. Further to the north, where flood currents are dominant, asymmetric sorted bedforms were detected which show sharp boundaries only in flood-current direction. Comparisons between the measurements of the different years show no significant variations in morphology and distribution of the sorted bedforms. However, variations of the boundaries between the medium and the fine-sand domains were observed. Additionally, new minor sorted bedforms and rippled excavation marks as well as new fine-sand areas developed and disappeared occasionally. It can be supposed that such sediment winnowing and focusing processes take place during periodically recurring storm surges, which change the shapes of the features. Moreover, variations in alignments and sizes of the small ripple formations were detected. They seem to indicate the directions and intensities of previous storm events.
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