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Composite suspended sediment particles and flocculation in glacial meltwaters: preliminary evidence from Alpine and Himalayan basins

By J.C. Woodward, P.R. Porter, A.T. Lowe, D.E. Walling and A.J. Evans

Abstract

Research over the last decade has shown that the suspended sediment loads of many rivers are dominated by composite\ud particles. These particles are also known as aggregates or flocs, and are commonly made up of constituent mineral\ud particles, which evidence a wide range of grain sizes, and organic matter. The resulting in situ or effective particle\ud size characteristics of fluvial suspended sediment exert a major control on all processes of entrainment, transport and\ud deposition. The significance of composite suspended sediment particles in glacial meltwater streams has, however, not\ud been established. Existing data on the particle size characteristics of suspended sediment in glacial meltwaters relate\ud to the dispersed mineral fraction (absolute particle size), which, for certain size fractions, may bear little relationship\ud to the effective or in situ distribution. Existing understanding of composite particle formation within freshwater\ud environments would suggest that in-stream flocculation processes do not take place in glacial meltwater systems\ud because of the absence of organic binding agents. However, we report preliminary scanning electron microscopy data\ud for one Alpine and two Himalayan glaciers that show composite particles are present in the suspended sediment\ud load of the meltwater system. The genesis and structure of these composite particles and their constituent grain size\ud characteristics are discussed. We present evidence for the existence of both aggregates, or composite particles whose\ud features are largely inherited from source materials, and flocs, which represent composite particles produced by instream\ud flocculation processes. In the absence of organic materials, the latter may result solely from electrochemical\ud flocculation in the meltwater sediment system. This type of floc formation has not been reported previously in the\ud freshwater fluvial environment. Further work is needed to test the wider significance of these data and to investigate\ud the effective particle size characteristics of suspended sediment associated with high concentration outburst events.\ud Such events make a major contribution to suspended sediment fluxes in meltwater streams and may provide conditions\ud that are conducive to composite particle formation by flocculation

Year: 2002
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:275

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