Subtidal Flow Reversal Associated With Sediment Accretion in a Delta Channel

Wei Zhang*, Haochuan Feng, Yuliang Zhu, Jinhai Zheng, A.J.F. Hoitink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


In branching delta channel networks, tides intrude into parallel river outlets causing complex tidal behavior. The tidal motion can impact the division of river discharge over distributary channels. Under some circumstances, the discharge averaged over a tidal cycle may even reverse, drawing ocean water intox the delta, such as observed in the Yangtze Delta, the Fly Delta and the Colorado Delta. Here, we study the flow reversal associated with sediment accumulation of a distributary channel in terms of tidal propagation and subtidal discharge dynamics, by focusing on the Yangtze Delta. The Yangtze Delta channel configuration represents a deep and wide main channel and a smaller side channel that has rapidly accreted over the past decades. A new mechanism is presented, which results in seawater transport across the shallow side channel, posing a risk to freshwater availability. The shallowest section in the side channel nearly acts as a tidal divide. In this section, the tide has the character of a standing wave, which implies that Stokes transport converges from opposite sides of the channel. This leads to significant variation of the total water storage in the side channel and subtidal water levels in the side channel being elevated above that in the main channel. The bulge of water that is stored during spring tide leaves the side channel toward neap tide, explaining reversal of the tide-averaged discharge and seawater intrusion when the river discharge is low.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10781-10795
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2019


  • deltas tidal networks salt intrusion bifurcation Yangtze Delta Stokes transport


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