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Durham University

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Teesmouth Sediment, Enteromorpha and Water Flux Study

A research project of the Department of Geography.


Investigating the sediment budget, the fate of contaminants and dating sediment contamination in the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA.

This project is a study commissioned by the Environment Agency to study the sediment dynamics in parts of the lower Tees estuary between June 2003 and March 2004. The work was carried out jointly by the Department of Geography, University of Durham and Environmental Tracing Systems Ltd. The work is designed to assist the Environment Agency with Review of Consents for trade effluent and sewage discharges into the estuary under the Habitats Directive.

The Teesmouth and Cleveland coast Special Protection Area is a designated high priority site under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. The site is a highly industrialised estuary that receives multiple trade effluent and sewage discharges which contain contaminants likely to have an adverse effect on water quality and biological systems. Contaminants may adhere to suspended sediment and be transported and settle out within estuary. In addition to present day pollution loadings, significant historical contamination is may be present buried within the estuarine sediments. The effects of levels of contamination on biota are being investigated but there any many questions about the behaviour of sediments in the estuary that need to be answered. This study addresses some of the key questions that will help to understand the importance of sediment in understanding pollution and its impact on sensitive intertidal habitat in the lower Tees estuary.


The project has three separate but connected aims:

Investigation of changes in sediment budget
This study will test the hypothesis put forward by the Hydraulics Research Wallingford Teesmouth Sediment Study (Burt et al. 2002) that the intertidal zone within the lower Tees estuary is in a state of net accretion, and, test the predictions from the study carried out by HR Wallingford in 1966 that following reclamation, the sediments deposited within the estuary would become finer.

Study changes in the distribution of Entromorpha sp. Bloom on Seal Sands
This study will examine the spatial patterns of green algae on Seal Sands from 1992, when the first spatial surveys were conducted, to the present. It will examine the relationships between algae and substrate type, position in the tidal cycle and organic content.

Investigate the fate of contaminants in the tees estuary
An important part of the project is to test the model predictions for tidal inundation under particular tidal conditions. Bathymetry impacts on the time and extent of tidal inundation that in turn will impact on time available for sedimentation and the settling out of contaminants within the intertidal zone. Tidal inundation will impact on light availability for Enteromorpha and other algae to photosynthesise and so may be a limiting growth factor. This study will take data from the EA model for a specified set of tidal and wind forcing conditions and relate consented discharges to the specified Environmental Quality Standard (EQS) concentrations of individual substances. The results will be displayed in map form to allow visualisation of possible negative impacts on intertidal mudflats.


For further information see Project website and Final Report


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