Investigating radionuclide bearing suspended sediment transport mechanisms in the Ribble estuary using airborne remote sensing
BNFL Sellafield has been authorised to discharge radionuclides to the Irish Sea since 1952. In the aquatic environment the radionuclides are adsorbed by sediments and are thus redistributed by sediment transport mechanisms. This sediment is known to accumulate in the estuaries of the Irish Sea. BNFL Springfields is also licensed to discharge isotopically different radionuclides directly to the Ribble estuary. Thus there is a need to understand the sediment dynamics of the Ribble estuary in order to understand the fate of these radionuclides within the Ribble estuary. Estuaries are highly dynamic environments that are difficult to monitor using the conventional sampling techniques. However, remote sensing provides a potentially powerful tool for monitoring the hydrodynamics of the estuarine environment by providing data that are both spatially and temporally representative. This research develops a methodology for mapping suspended sediment concentration (SSC) in the Ribble estuary using airborne remote sensing. The first hypothesis, that there is a relationship between SSC and l37Cs concentration is proven in-situ (R2=O.94), thus remotely sensed SSC can act as a surrogate for \37Cs concentration. Initial in-situ characterisation of the suspended sediments was investigated to identify spatial and temporal variability in grain size distributions and reflectance characteristics for the Ribble estuary. Laboratory experiments were then perfonned to clearly define the SSC reflectance relationship, identify the optimum CASI wavelengths for quantifying SSC and to demonstrate the effects on reflectance of the environmental variables of salinity and clay content. Images were corrected for variation in solar elevation and angle to give a ground truth calibration for SSC, with an R2=O.76. The remaining scatter in this relationship was attributed to the differences in spatial and temporal representation between sampling techniques and remote sensing. The second hypothesis assumes that a series of images over a flood tide can be animated to provide infonnation on the hydrodynamic regime, erosion, and deposition. Spatial and temporal data demonstrated the complex controls on sediment transport. The data also showed the importance of microphytobenthos in the stabilisation of intertidal sediments, highlighting their importance in defining sources and sinks of radionuclides in intertidal areas. Water volume data from the VERSE model were combined with SSC from the imagery to calculate the total sediment in suspension for each flight line. This provided the figures used to detennine total erosion and deposition, which were then used to derive net suspended sediment and l37Cs influxes of 2.01xl06kg and 604MBq per flood tide.