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Concept: Sediment transport


Longitudinal connectivity is a fundamental characteristic of rivers that can be disrupted by natural and anthropogenic processes. Dams are significant disruptions to streams. Over 2,000,000 low-head dams (<7.6 m high) fragment United States rivers. Despite potential adverse impacts of these ubiquitous disturbances, the spatial impacts of low-head dams on geomorphology and ecology are largely untested. Progress for research and conservation is impaired by not knowing the magnitude of low-head dam impacts. Based on the geomorphic literature, we refined a methodology that allowed us to quantify the spatial extent of low-head dam impacts (herein dam footprint), assessed variation in dam footprints across low-head dams within a river network, and identified select aspects of the context of this variation. Wetted width, depth, and substrate size distributions upstream and downstream of six low-head dams within the Upper Neosho River, Kansas, United States of America were measured. Total dam footprints averaged 7.9 km (3.0-15.3 km) or 287 wetted widths (136-437 wetted widths). Estimates included both upstream (mean: 6.7 km or 243 wetted widths) and downstream footprints (mean: 1.2 km or 44 wetted widths). Altogether the six low-head dams impacted 47.3 km (about 17%) of the mainstem in the river network. Despite differences in age, size, location, and primary function, the sizes of geomorphic footprints of individual low-head dams in the Upper Neosho river network were relatively similar. The number of upstream dams and distance to upstream dams, but not dam height, affected the spatial extent of dam footprints. In summary, ubiquitous low-head dams individually and cumulatively altered lotic ecosystems. Both characteristics of individual dams and the context of neighboring dams affected low-head dam impacts within the river network. For these reasons, low-head dams require a different, more integrative, approach for research and management than the individualistic approach that has been applied to larger dams.

Concepts: United States, River, Individualism, Dam, Flood, Geomorphology, Sediment transport, Levee


Globally, marine surface sediments constitute a habitat for estimated 1.7 × 1028 prokaryotes. For benthic microbial community analysis, usually, several grams of sediment are processed. In this study, we made the step from bulk sediments to single sand grains to address the microbial community directly in its micro-habitat: the individual bacterial diversity on 17 sand grains was analyzed by 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing and visualized on sand grains using catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization. In all, 104-105 cells were present on grains from 202 to 635 μm diameter. Colonization was patchy, with exposed areas largely devoid of any epi-growth (mean cell-cell distance 4.5±5.9 μm) and protected areas more densely populated (0.5±0.7 μm). Mean cell-cell distances were 100-fold shorter compared with the water column. In general, growth occurred in monolayers. Each sand grain harbors a highly diverse bacterial community as shown by several thousand species-level operational taxonomic units (OTU)0.97. Only 4-8 single grains are needed to cover 50% of OTU0.97 richness found in bulk sediment. Although bacterial communities differed between sand grains, a core community accounting for >50% of all cells was present on each sand grain. The communities between sediment grains are more similar than between soil macroaggregates.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 1 December 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2017.197.

Concepts: DNA, Archaea, Bacteria, RNA, Ribosomal RNA, Ribosome, Gravel, Sediment transport


On Mars, locally warm surface temperatures (~293 K) occur, leading to the possibility of (transient) liquid water on the surface. However, water exposed to the martian atmosphere will boil, and the sediment transport capacity of such unstable water is not well understood. Here, we present laboratory studies of a newly recognized transport mechanism: “levitation” of saturated sediment bodies on a cushion of vapor released by boiling. Sediment transport where this mechanism is active is about nine times greater than without this effect, reducing the amount of water required to transport comparable sediment volumes by nearly an order of magnitude. Our calculations show that the effect of levitation could persist up to ~48 times longer under reduced martian gravity. Sediment levitation must therefore be considered when evaluating the formation of recent and present-day martian mass wasting features, as much less water may be required to form such features than previously thought.

Concepts: Water, Mars, Liquid, Gas, Evaporation, Sediment transport, Boiling, Atmosphere of Mars


Sedimentary dispersal systems with fine-grained beds are common, yet the physics of sediment movement within them remains poorly constrained. We analyze sediment transport data for the best-documented, fine-grained river worldwide, the Huanghe (Yellow River) of China, where sediment flux is underpredicted by an order of magnitude according to well-accepted sediment transport relations. Our theoretical framework, bolstered by field observations, demonstrates that the Huanghe tends toward upper-stage plane bed, yielding minimal form drag, thus markedly enhancing sediment transport efficiency. We present a sediment transport formulation applicable to all river systems with silt to coarse-sand beds. This formulation demonstrates a remarkably sensitive dependence on grain size within a certain narrow range and therefore has special relevance to silt-sand fluvial systems, particularly those affected by dams.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, Silt, Yellow River, Sand, Sediment transport, Sedimentology


As international concern for the survival of deltas grows, the Mekong River delta, the world’s third largest delta, densely populated, considered as Southeast Asia’s most important food basket, and rich in biodiversity at the world scale, is also increasingly affected by human activities and exposed to subsidence and coastal erosion. Several dams have been constructed upstream of the delta and many more are now planned. We quantify from high-resolution SPOT 5 satellite images large-scale shoreline erosion and land loss between 2003 and 2012 that now affect over 50% of the once strongly advancing >600 km-long delta shoreline. Erosion, with no identified change in the river’s discharge and in wave and wind conditions over this recent period, is consistent with: (1) a reported significant decrease in coastal surface suspended sediment from the Mekong that may be linked to dam retention of its sediment, (2) large-scale commercial sand mining in the river and delta channels, and (3) subsidence due to groundwater extraction. Shoreline erosion is already responsible for displacement of coastal populations. It is an additional hazard to the integrity of this Asian mega delta now considered particularly vulnerable to accelerated subsidence and sea-level rise, and will be exacerbated by future hydropower dams.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Population density, River delta, Dam, Coastal geography, Geomorphology, Sediment transport


The presence of microplastics (MPs) in the environment is a problem of growing concern. While research has focused on MP occurrence and impacts in the marine environment, very little is known about their release on land, storage in soils and sediments and transport by run-off and rivers. This study describes a first theoretical assessment of these processes. A mathematical model of catchment hydrology, soil erosion and sediment budgets was upgraded to enable description of MP fate. The Thames River in the UK was used as a case study. A general lack of data on MP emissions to soils and rivers and the mass of MPs in agricultural soils, limits the present work to serve as a purely theoretical, nevertheless rigorous, assessment that can be used to guide future monitoring and impact evaluations. The fundamental assumption on which modelling is based is that the same physical controls on soil erosion and natural sediment transport (for which model calibration and validation are possible), also control MP transport and storage. Depending on sub-catchment soil characteristics and precipitation patterns, approximately 16-38% of the heavier-than-water MPs hypothetically added to soils (e.g. through routine applications of sewage sludge) are predicted to be stored locally. In the stream, MPs < 0.2 mm are generally not retained, regardless of their density. Larger MPs with densities marginally higher than water can instead be retained in the sediment. It is, however, anticipated that high flow periods can remobilize this pool. Sediments of river sections experiencing low stream power are likely hotspots for deposition of MPs. Exposure and impact assessments should prioritize these environments.

Concepts: Sediment, River, Erosion, Surface runoff, River Thames, Geomorphology, Sediment transport, Meander


To assess the environmental fate and risks of pharmaceuticals, the determination of their distributions between sediment and water is crucial as a controlling process. In this paper, the concentrations of 9 selected pharmaceuticals were determined in water and sediment samples from the River Medway, Kent, UK between December 2009 and December 2010. In the water phase, there was a spatial variation of concentration with the highest concentrations being detected in the sewage outfall, indicating it being an important point source in the river. In terms of seasonal variations, the highest concentrations (13-878 ng L(-1)) were detected in June 2010. In the surface sediment phase, the highest concentrations (5.3-33.6 ng g(-1) dry weight) were observed at the sewage outfall, although in February 2010 the highest concentrations were detected downstream of the sewage outfall indicating a delayed response in sediment accumulation of pharmaceuticals in relation to the water phase. The partition coefficient of pharmaceuticals between surface sediment and water was variable, reflecting a dynamic process of sediment-water interaction and the varying nature of sediments. Overall the partition coefficient was shown to decrease with an increase in suspended sediment concentration. The organic carbon normalized partition coefficient of the pharmaceuticals was shown to be positively related to their molecular weight (MW), suggesting that sediment-water interactions were partly a partition process favoring large molecules.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Sediment, Molecule, Chemistry, Water pollution, Phase diagram, Sediment transport, Kent


The dynamic interaction of bacteria within bed sediment and suspended sediment (i.e., floc) in a wave-dominated beach environment was assessed using a laboratory wave flume. The influence of shear stress (wave energy) on bacterial concentrations and on the partitioning and transport of unattached and floc-associated bacteria was investigated. The study showed that increasing wave energy (0.60 and 5.35 N/s) resulted in a 0.5 to 1.5 log increase in unattached cells of the test bacterium Pseudomonas sp. strain CTO7::gfp-2 in the water column. There was a positive correlation between the bacterial concentrations in water and the total suspended solids, with the latter increasing from values of near 0 to up to 200 mg/L over the same wave energy increase. The median equivalent spherical diameter of flocs in suspension also increased by an order of magnitude in all experimental trials. Under both low (0.60 N/s) and high (5.35 N/s) energy regime, bacteria were shown to preferentially associate with flocs upon cessation of wave activity. The results suggest that collecting water samples during periods of low wave action for the purpose of monitoring the microbiological quality of water may underestimate bacterial concentrations partly because of an inability to account for the effect of shear stress on the erosion and mobilization of bacteria from bed sediment to the water column. This highlights the need to develop a more comprehensive beach analysis strategy that not only addresses presently uncharacterized shores and sediments but also recognizes the importance of eroded flocs as a vector for the transport of bacteria in aquatic environments.

Concepts: Bacteria, Water, Sediment, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Force, Erosion, Wind, Sediment transport


Macrofauna is known to inhabit the top few 10s cm of marine sediments, with rare burrows up to two metres below the seabed. Here, we provide evidence from deep-water Permian strata for a previously unrecognised habitat up to at least 8 metres below the sediment-water interface. Infaunal organisms exploited networks of forcibly injected sand below the seabed, forming living traces and reworking sediment. This is the first record that shows sediment injections are responsible for hosting macrofaunal life metres below the contemporaneous seabed. In addition, given the widespread occurrence of thick sandy successions that accumulate in deep-water settings, macrofauna living in the deep biosphere are likely much more prevalent than considered previously. These findings should influence future sampling strategies to better constrain the depth range of infaunal animals living in modern deep-sea sands. One Sentence Summary: The living depth of infaunal macrofauna is shown to reach at least 8 metres in new habitats associated with sand injections.

Concepts: Sediment, Oceanography, Animal, Erosion, 2000s music groups, Gravel, Sediment transport, Sedimentary depositional environment


The physical-chemical stage of marginal filters in minor rivers of the White Sea catchment area by the example of the Umba River, flowing to Kandalaksha Gulf, has been explored. Application of the method of physical-chemical modeling on the basis of field data allowed establishing migration forms of a number of elements in the “river-sea” system and deposition of solid phases when mixing waters. The mixing of river and sea water is accompanied by the sedimentation of predominantly goethite, hydromuscovite, and hydroxylapatite. Sediments in mixing river and sea waters were found to be mainly composed by goethite, hydromuscovite, and hydroxylapatite. The research has added to the knowledge of the role of the abiotic part in the marginal filters of small rivers in the Arctic.

Concepts: Water, Sediment, Sedimentary rock, River, Red Sea, Sediment transport, White Sea, Kandalaksha Gulf