River deltas have received considerable attention due to coastal land loss issues caused by subsidence, storms, and sea level rise. Improved understanding of deltaic processes and dynamics is vital to coastal restoration efforts. This paper describes the application of process-based morphodynamic models to a prograding river delta. The analysis focuses on the flow and sediment dynamics amongst the interconnected channel network of the delta. The models were validated against observations of velocity and sediment concentrations for the Wax Lake Delta (WLD) of the Atchafalaya River system in Louisiana, USA. The WLD provides an opportunity as a natural laboratory for studying the processes associated with river dominated deltaic growth. It includes a network of bifurcated channels that self-organize and dynamically adjust, as the delta grows seaward to the Gulf of Mexico. The model results for a flood event show that 47% of the flow exits the system as channelized flow and the remaining 53% exits as overbank flow. The fine sediment (silt and clay) distribution was proportional with water fluxes throughout the channel network, whereas sand distribution was influenced by geometric attributes (size, invert elevation, and alignment) of the distributary channels. The long-term deltaic growth predicted by the model compares well with the observations for the period 1998–2012. This paper provides insights on how the distribution of flow and sediment amongst the interconnected delta channels influences the morphodynamics of the delta to reach a dynamic equilibrium within this relatively young deltaic system.
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