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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Conceptual Model of Sedimentation in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

  • Author(s): Schoellhamer, David H.;
  • Wright, Scott A.;
  • Drexler, Judy
  • et al.

Sedimentation in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta builds the Delta landscape, creates benthic and pelagic habitat, and transports sediment-associated contaminants. Here we present a conceptual model of sedimentation that includes submodels for river supply from the watershed to the Delta, regional transport within the Delta and seaward exchange, and local sedimentation in open water and marsh habitats. The model demonstrates feedback loops that affect the Delta ecosystem. Submerged and emergent marsh vegetation act as ecosystem engineers that can create a positive feedback loop by decreasing suspended sediment, increasing water column light, which in turn enables more vegetation. Sea-level rise in open water is partially countered by a negative feedback loop that increases deposition if there is a net decrease in hydrodynamic energy. Manipulation of regional sediment transport is probably the most feasible method to control suspended sediment and thus turbidity. The conceptual model is used to identify information gaps that need to be filled to develop an accurate sediment transport model.

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