In situ record of sedimentary processes near the Rhône River mouth during winter events (Gulf of Lions, Mediterranean Sea)
Continental Shelf Research / Volume 30, Issue 9, 31 May 2010, Pages 1095-1107
The environment is impacted by natural and anthropogenic disturbances that occur at different spatial and temporal scales, and that lead to major changes and even disequilibria when exceeding the resiliency capacities of the ecosystem. With an annual mean flow of 1700 m3 s-1, the Rhône River is the largest of the western Mediterranean basin. Its annual solid discharges vary between 2 and 20 Mt, with flood events responsible for more than 70% of these amounts. In the marine coastal area, close to the mouth, both flocculation and aggregation lead to the formation of fine-grained deposits, i.e. the prodelta. This area is characterized by sediment accumulation rates up to 20-50 cm yr-1 and high accumulations of particle reactive contaminants such as various man-made radionuclides released into the river by nuclear facilities or arising form prior atmospheric nuclear tests (1954-1980) and the Chernobyl accident (April 1986). This prodelta, however, cannot be considered as a permanent repository for particle reactive pollutants since it is subjected to reworking processes. Sediment dynamics had to be linked to the influences of hydrodynamic and atmospheric events such as high flow rates or storms close to the Rhône River mouth. An experiment was carried out during the winter 2006 based on the deployment of two ADCPs and six altimeters at the Grand Rhône mouth for several months. This type of installation has never been used before in this area because of the hard meteorological conditions and the strong fishing activities. However, results showed pluricentimetric rises of the sedimentary level just after river flood events and decreases during storms, generated by southeast winds. Radiotracers and grain size depth profiles helped to characterise the studied events and to establish inventories of sediments and radionuclides. A cruise (CARMEX) was carried out during this same period to collect water samples, suspended particles and sediment cores. The results enabled us to link both river flow and wind characteristics to events recorded on the sea floor, i.e. resuspension, accumulation, consolidation, etc. Deposits of 11 cm of sediments were estimated during flood periods and bottom shear stresses up to 5 N m-2 were calculated during sediment erosion phases.