Application of a novel automatic erosion and deposition monitoring system at a channel bank site on the tidal River Trent, U.K.

D.M. Lawler, J.R. West, J.S. Couperthwaite, S.B. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a well-defined need to improve understanding of the dynamics of sediment erosion and deposition on intertidal channel banks, given their importance to channel stability, sediment budgets, depth maintenance, pollutant and nutrient transport, and ecological processes in estuarine systems. Conventional, manual methods for field monitoring of erosion and deposition, however, normally deliver information of low temporal resolution conditioned by infrequent field resurveys. To address this problem, this paper discusses a recently developed and improved automatic erosion and deposition monitoring technique, the Photo-Electronic Erosion Pin (PEEP) system, and its application to a tidal channel bank site at Burringham on the River Trent, U.K. The PEEP system allows the magnitude, frequency and timing of individual erosion and deposition events to be monitored much more precisely than with conventional manual methods. PEEP sensors also monitor light intensity and sediment temperature, variables which can influence bank stabilizing and destabilizing processes. Example results at both the event and spring-neap timescales are presented from a short PEEP system deployment between March and May 1997 at Burringham. These establish that discrete erosion events of >60 mm and 100 mm can occur in response to individual tidal cycles, events which are readily monitored automatically and quasicontinuously by the PEEP system. The capability of the PEEP approach to enhance temporal resolution of monitoring is demonstrated by the determination of the timing of the 100-mm bank erosion incident to an ‘ event window ’ of 2·75 h: this converts to mean bank erosion rate of 36 mm h−1over the period of inundation. In addition, the PEEP system defines the magnitude and date of two example deposition events of 47 and 92 mm on the lower bank during a sequence of rising spring tides. These represent mean deposition rates of 4·5 and 8·4 mm h−1respectively over the periods of inundation. The Burringham site is shown to be highly active, with regular and dynamic erosion and deposition cycles. Upper bank surface elevation oscillations, driven by this sediment cycling, were characterized by a strong 14-day cycle which clearly reflected the spring-neap cycling of tidal range. Sediment was deposited on the bank relatively quickly, but removed by erosion rather slowly, giving an asymmetric sediment cycling profile. Higher bank elevations were strongly correlated with high tidal ranges, and especially to water level peaks 2 days previously. Incorporation of a simple Wind Stress Index further improved the statistical explanation of tidal bank elevation, and suggested that high on-shore wind speeds were associated with increased bank erosion. Such vigorous sediment cycling means that many erosion-deposition sequences on tidal banks can be self-concealing and therefore may not be recorded by infrequent manual resurveys which will inevitably underestimate total activity. This reinforces the need for an automated method such as the PEEP system to determine these typically cyclic sequences of self-cancelling accretion and removal activity if site dynamism is to be correctly quantified. The ability of the PEEP approach to generate such detailed and high-resolution information on the temporal distribution of erosion and deposition events in tidal environments should significantly enhance future process and applied studies, especially of entrainment thresholds, sediment recycling, estuarine sediment supply and sediment fluxes, the operation of biomediation mechanisms, bank erodibility changes, storage and residence times of contaminants and site management options.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-247
Number of pages11
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2001


  • Erosion
  • Sediment accretion
  • Tidal rivers
  • Tidal cycles
  • Intertidal zone
  • PEEP


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