Deep-Sea Sediment Resuspension by Internal Solitary Waves in the Northern South China Sea


Title: Deep-Sea Sediment Resuspension by Internal Solitary Waves in the Northern South China Sea.

Journal: Scientific Report, 9: 12137.

Authors: JIA Y. -G., Z. -C. Tian, X. -F. Shi, J. Paul Liu, J. -X. Chen, X. -L. Liu, R. -J. Ye, Z. -Y. Ren, and J. -W. Tian

Abstract: Internal solitary waves (ISWs) can cause strong vertical and horizontal currents and turbulent mixing in the ocean. These processes affect sediment and pollutant transport, acoustic transmissions and man-made structures in the shallow and deep oceans. Previous studies of the role of ISWs in suspending seafloor sediments and forming marine nepheloid layers were mainly conducted in shallow-water environments. In summer 2017, we observed at least four thick (70–140 m) benthic nepheloid layers (BNLs) at water depths between 956 and 1545 m over continental slopes in the northern South China Sea. We found there was a good correlation between the timing of the ISW packet and variations of the deepwater suspended sediment concentration (SSC). At a depth of 956 m, when the ISW arrived, the near-bottom SSC rapidly increased by two orders of magnitude to 0.62 mg/l at 8 m above the bottom. At two much deeper stations, the ISW-induced horizontal velocity reached 59.6–79.3 cm/s, which was one order of magnitude more than the seafloor contour currents velocity. The SSC, 10 m above the sea floor, rapidly increased to 0.10 mg/l (depth of 1545 m) and 1.25 mg/l (depth of 1252 m). In this study, we found that ISWs could suspend much more sediments on deepwater areas than previously thought. Specifically, we estimated that ISWs could induce and suspend 787 Mt/yr of sediment from shelf to deep-sea areas of the northern South China Sea. The total amount of sediment resuspended by shoaling ISWs was 2.7 times that of river-derived sediment reaching the northern South China Sea. This accounted for 6.1% of the global river-discharged sediment (16.4% of that from Asian rivers) transported to the sea.