Effects of contrasting wave conditions on scour and drag on pioneer tidal marsh plants

Alexandra Silinski, Maike Heuner, Peter Troch, Sara Puijalon, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Jonas Schoelynck, Uwe Schröder, Elmar Fuchs, Patrick Meire, Stijn Temmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Tidal marshes are increasingly valued for protecting shorelines against wave impact, but waves in turn may limit the initial establishment of tidal marsh pioneer plants. In estuaries, the shorelines typically experience a wide range of wave periods, varying from short period wind waves (usually of around 1-2. s in fair weather conditions) to long ship-generated waves, with secondary waves in the order of 2-7. s and primary waves with periods that can exceed 1 min. Waves are known to create sediment scour around, as well as to exert drag forces on obstacles such as seedlings and adults of establishing pioneer plant species. In intertidal systems, these two mechanisms have been identified as main causes for limiting potential colonization of bare tidal flats. In this paper, we want to assess to which extent common quantitative formulae for predicting local scour and drag forces on rigid cylindrical obstacles are valid for the estimation of scour and drag on slightly flexible plants with contrasting morphology, and hence applicable to predict plant establishment and survival under contrasting wave conditions. This has been tested in a full-scale wave flume experiment on two pioneer species (Scirpus maritimus and Scirpus tabernaemontani) and two life stages (seedlings and adults of S. maritimus) as well as on cylindrical reference sticks, which we have put under a range of wave periods (2-10. s), intended to mimic natural wind waves (short period waves) and ship-induced waves (artificial long period waves), at three water levels (5, 20, 35 cm). Our findings suggest that at very shallow water depths (5. cm) particular hydrodynamic conditions are created that lead to drag and scour that deviate from predictions. For higher water levels (20, 35 cm) scour can be well predicted for all wave conditions by an established formula for wave-induced scour around rigid cylinders. Drag forces can be relatively well predicted after introducing experimentally derived drag coefficients that are specific for the different plant morphologies. Best predictions were found for plants with a simple near-cylindrical morphology such as S. tabernaemontani, but are less accurate for plants of more complex structure such as S. maritimus, particularly for long period waves. In conclusion, our study offers valuable insights towards predicting/modelling the conditions under which seedlings and shoots of pioneer species can establish, and elucidates that long waves are more likely to counteract successful plant establishment than natural short waves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Feb 15 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Colonization
  • Ship waves
  • Tidal marshes
  • Wave flume experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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