Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 167–178 | Cite as

Sediment transport processes in the Pearl River Estuary as revealed by grain-size end-member modeling and sediment trend analysis

  • Tao Li
  • Tuan-Jie Li


The analysis of grain-size distribution enables us to decipher sediment transport processes and understand the causal relations between dynamic processes and grain-size distributions. In the present study, grain sizes were measured from surface sediments collected in the Pearl River Estuary and its adjacent coastal areas. End-member modeling analysis attempts to unmix the grain sizes into geologically meaningful populations. Six grain-size end-members were identified. Their dominant modes are 0 Φ, 1.5 Φ, 2.75 Φ, 4.5 Φ, 7 Φ, and 8 Φ, corresponding to coarse sand, medium sand, fine sand, very coarse silt, silt, and clay, respectively. The spatial distributions of the six end-members are influenced by sediment transport and depositional processes. The two coarsest end-members (coarse sand and medium sand) may reflect relict sediments deposited during the last glacial period. The fine sand end-member would be difficult to transport under fair weather conditions, and likely indicates storm deposits. The three remaining fine-grained end-members (very coarse silt, silt, and clay) are recognized as suspended particles transported by saltwater intrusion via the flood tidal current, the Guangdong Coastal Current, and riverine outflow. The grain-size trend analysis shows distinct transport patterns for the three fine-grained end-members. The landward transport of the very coarse silt end-member occurs in the eastern part of the estuary, the seaward transport of the silt end-member occurs in the western part, and the east–west transport of the clay end-member occurs in the coastal areas. The results show that grain-size end-member modeling analysis in combination with sediment trend analysis help to better understand sediment transport patterns and the associated transport mechanisms.



We thank the crew on the marine survey cruise in the Pearl River Estuary for their assistance with sample collection. We acknowledge two anonymous reviewers as well as the editors for constructive comments and suggestions that considerably improved this article. This work is supported by the Chinese Special Survey of Marine Geology (DD20160140, DD20160138).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest with third parties.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Guangzhou Marine Geological SurveyChina Geological SurveyGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.South China Sea Marine Engineering Surveying Center, State Oceanic AdministrationGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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