Tidal sedimentology and geomorphology in the central Salish Sea straits, British Columbia and Washington State




Mullan, Sean

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Intra-archipelago waterways, including tidal strait networks, present a complex set of barriers to, and conduits for sediment transport between marine basins. Tidal straits may also be the least well understood tide-dominated sedimentary environment. To address these issues, currents, sediment transport pathways, and seabed sedimentology & geomorphology were studied in the central Salish Sea (Gulf and San Juan Islands region) of British Columbia, Canada and Washington State, USA. A variety of data types were integrated: 3D & 2D tidal models, multibeam bathymetry & backscatter, seabed video, grab samples, cores and seismic reflection. This dissertation included the first regional sediment transport modelling study of the central Salish Sea. Lagrangian particle dispersal simulations were driven by 2D tidal hydrodynamics (~59-days). It was found that flood-tide dominance through narrow intra-archipelago connecting straits resulted in the transfer of sediment into the inland Strait of Georgia, an apparent sediment sink. The formative/maintenance processes at a variety of seabed landforms, including a banner bank with giant dunes, were explained with modelled tides and sediment transport. Deglacial history and modern lateral sedimentological and morphological transitions were also considered. Based on this modern environment, adjustments to the tidal strait facies model were identified. In addition, erosion and deposition patterns across the banner bank (dune complex) were monitored with 8-repeat multibeam sonar surveys (~10 years). With these data, spatially variable bathymetric change detection techniques were explored: A) a cell-by-cell probabilistic depth uncertainty-based threshold (t-test); and B) coherent clusters of change pixels identified with the local Moran's Ii spatial autocorrelation statistic. Uncertainty about volumetric change is a considerable challenge in seabed change research, compared to terrestrial studies. Consideration of volumetric change confidence intervals tempers interpretations and communicates metadata. Techniques A & B may both be used to restrict volumetric change calculations in area, to exclude low relative bathymetric change signal areas.



tidal strait networks, sediment transport pathways, seabed sedimentology, marine geomorphology, Salish Sea, Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, multibeam bathymetry, Lagrangian particle dispersal, tidal hydrodynamics, Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, banner bank, giant dunes, tidal strait facies model, bathymetric change detection, t-test, local Moran's Ii, depth uncertainty, volumetric change confidence intervals, deglacial history, repeat surveys, sand dynamics, tides, sonar, marine renewable energy, offshore pipelines and cables, benthic habitat, spatial autocorrelation, spatial analysis and statistics, geographic information system (GIS), finite element method (FEM)