Wave and tide induced sediment transport pathways and rates govern the morphological evolution of estuarine systems. An understanding of the morphodynamics of these systems is required to maintain their commercial, biological and recreational value. The morphodynamics of Port Stephens estuary, a micro-tidal estuary located on a wave dominated southeast coast of Australia were investigated using bathymetric surveys and current velocity data from several locations over the estuary. This provided detailed insight into the rates and direction of movement for the main sedimentary features of the system, and how these features interact with the processes that drive their evolution. We used these findings to develop a conceptual model for estuarine morphodynamics that accounts for fair weather and storm conditions. Our model explains how sediment eroded from the estuarine beaches is trapped by the adjacent flood-tide delta. The model is applicable to fetch-limited estuaries that do not have offshore sources of sediment, where the tidal currents are weak in relation to the incident ocean waves, and that have a wide, stable entrance through which ocean waves can propagate into the estuary. The model is multi-scale in that it encapsulates both short-term and local process, and large scale evolution of an estuary; therefore, it represents a tool that may be used in developing sustainable estuary management strategies.
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