Multi-sensor tripod measurements in the high-turbidity area of the Belgian nearshore zone (southern North Sea) allowed investigating storm effects on near bed suspended particulate matter (SPM) concentrations. The data have shown that during or after a storm the SPM concentration increases significantly and that high concentrated mud suspensions (HCMS) are formed. Under these conditions, about 3 times more mass of SPM was observed in the water column, as compared to calm weather conditions. The following different sources of fine-grained sediments, influencing the SPM concentration signal, have been investigated: wind direction and the advection of water masses; the previous history and occurrence of fluffy layers; freshly deposited mud near the disposal grounds of dredged material, navigation channels and adjacent areas; and the erosion of medium-consolidated mud of Holocene age.
Based on erosion behaviour measurements of in-situ samples, the critical erosion shear stresses have been estimated for different cohesive sediment samples outcropping in the study area. The results have shown that most of the mud deposits cannot be eroded by tidal currents alone, but higher shear stresses, as induced by storms with high waves, are needed. Erosion can however occur during storms with high waves. Data suggest that in order to obtain very high SPM concentrations near the bed, significant amounts of fine-grained sediments have to be resuspended and/or eroded. The disposal grounds of dredged material, navigation channels and adjacent areas with freshly deposited mud have been found to be the major source of the fine-grained sediments during storms. This result is important, as it suggests that dredging and the associated disposal of sediments have made available fine-grained matter that contributes significantly to the formation of high SPM concentrations and high concentrated mud suspensions.