The fringes of estuaries are often characterized by the presence of side embayments (secondary basins), with dimensions in the order of hundreds of meters to tens of kilometers. The presence of secondary basins significantly alters the hydrodynamic and sediment characteristics in the main estuary, implying that loss of secondary basin area due to human interventions might affect the estuarine morphodynamics. Analysis of historical bathymetric data of the Western Scheldt Estuary (Netherlands) suggests that closure of its secondary basins has triggered the observed lateral displacement of the nearby channels. This analysis motivated investigation of the impact of secondary basins on decadal evolution of estuarine channels, using the numerical model Delft3D.
Model results show that channels that form near a secondary basin are located further away from the bank of the estuary with respect to their positions in the case without a basin. Overall, results in cases with two or three basins are similar to those in case with one single basin. The wider the basin, the further away the nearby channel forms. Removing a secondary basin causes a lateral displacement of the nearby channel towards the bank, indicating that the observed lateral displacement of channels in the Western Scheldt is triggered by closure of its secondary basins. The physical explanation is that tidal currents in the main estuary are weaker and more rotary near secondary basins, favoring sediment deposition and shoal development at these locations. Model results are particularly relevant for estuaries with moderate to high friction and converging width.