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T. Missiaen 1,2, E. Slob 1, W. Versteeg 2 & M.E. Donselaar 1

Dept. of Geotechnology, Delft University of Technology, Mijnbouwstraat 120, 2628

RX Delft, The Netherlands
Renard Centre of Marine Geology, University of Gent, Krijgslaan 281-S8, 9000 Gent,

Morphodynamic and process-based modelling of active sedimentary environments such as

deltas and estuaries enable us to trace back the history of past morphodynamic changes in the
stratigraphy of modern sedimentary environments, and to enhance the predictive value of
process-based models on geological time scales. In order to validate existing models of
sedimentation in estuaries stratigraphic information from both the land and the sea is
indispensable. To this end different geophysical data acquisition techniques are developed
and tested in an active estuarine sedimentary environment, combining land-based and seabased techniques. This land-sea-boundary is often a blank spot, as shallow water areas present
serious technological challenges, whereas active coastal processes in the surf zone render
high-precision geodesy difficult.
A first test site has been chosen in the Verdronken land van Saeftinghe (drowned land of
Saeftinge), at the southern rim of the Westerschelde estuary at the Dutch-Belgian border.
High tidal amplitudes (over 5 m!) enable the application of different techniques at different
water levels. During high tide marine-based geophysical data may be obtained from the major
creeks, whereas during low tide land-based shallow geophysical data may be obtained from
the exposed salt marshes and minor creeks. This should allow the same sedimentary bodies to
be imaged both from the land and the sea.
The Verdronken land van Saeftinge consists of some 3200 ha of intertidal flats and salt
marshes, cut by numerous subtidal creeks and gullies (Fig. 1). Two thousand years ago it was
part of the Holland Peat landscape. The development and gradual enlargement of the Scheldt
estuary brought the area into the sphere of marine influence. Tidal channels were developed,
and sand and clay were deposited on channel levees and in salt marshes. During the late
Middle Ages the area was embanked. At the end of the 16th century, due to different causes,
the land was once again taken by the sea. To this day gradual sedimentation and expansion of
the salt marshes is going on. The salinity in the area ranges between 5 and 10 g Cl-/l and is
highly influenced by tide, river discharge, and wind.
Data acquisition has focussed on the top 10-20 m of the active sediment bodies, with a
resolution preferably on decimetre scale. Different geophysical techniques applied include
a.o. very-high-resolution marine seismics (2D and pseudo-3D), geo-electrical methods (both
on land and marine), electromagnetic methods (on land), ground penetrating radar (on land),
high-resolution land seismics, and shallow manual coring. Existing data comprise o.a.
detailed aerial photographs and maps of past coastline and vegetation development since
1930, as well as deeper borehole data from the DINO data-base from TNO-NITG.
Two marine seismic surveys have been carried out in the main gullies (Fig.1). Different
acoustic sources were compared (Boomer, 3.5 kHz echosounder, Seistec, parametric
echosounder); in addition a number of densely spaced networks were recorded (Fig.1). The
Boomer and 3.5 kHz echosounder often proved inadequate in the encountered extreme

shallow water depths (< 2 m), due to low reflection angles (boomer) and long pulse length
(echosounder). The Seistec and parametric profiler provided the best results. Both sources
allow to resolve small structural features in the subsurface, although penetration often
remained limited to several meters due to the presence of gas in the sediments. In general the
parametric source shows somewhat more detail. The densely spaced networks (line spacing
10-20 m) recorded with the parametric source reveal intriguing details including shifting
gullies and lateral accretion (Fig.2).
Geo-electrical and electromagnetic techniques were applied on the tidal marsh and across the
gully at low tide (Fig.1). Different arrays were compared, using various electrode spacings.
The measured resistivity contrasts are often low, making it difficult to distinguish lithological
variations from background signatures caused by hydrogeological features. No clear
horizontal stratification can be observed, but vertical structures can be correlated with active
or buried tidal channels (Fig. 3a). TEM profiles involved the use of 3 different sized single
loops (6.25/12.5/25 m). The results show an improved (though still low) contrast layering up
to a depth of at least 30 m (Fig. 3b). However, a trade off between depth penetration and
resolution exists for the large loop versus the smaller ones.
Marine resistivity measurements were restricted to the two main gullies (Fig.1). A dipoledipole array was used, with 2 current electrodes and 9 potential electrodes (6 m spacing). The
results reveal a gradual horizontal stratification, indicating an increase in resistivity of the
deeper sediments (probably linked to higher compaction). A remarkable difference is noted
between the eastern gully and the other gullies, suggesting a different geology (Fig. 3c). Due
to the high conductivity of the water layer the reliability of deeper data gradually decreased,
as they were less sensitive to variations in resistivity.
Reflection seismic trials on land include the use of different sources, a.o. S- and P-wave
vibrator, sledgehammer, and drop weight. In order to obtain sufficient resolution the
geophone spacing was set at 0.25 m. The test site is a sand bar that falls dry at low tide;
indeed short-wavelength data (high-frequency and high-velocity signal) - needed to ensure
high resolution of shallow target boundaries can only be achieved in areas where the water
table is close to the surface. A number of manually drilled cores were taken on the tidal marsh
nearby. The depth of these cores (< 3 m) gave insight into the nature of the top layer, but
unfortunately it was insufficient to make a reliable correlation with the other data.
In general, the overall results show that the acoustic techniques allow a better interpretation of
the sedimentary structures compared to the electric and electromagnetic methods. The latter
suffered severely from the effect of tidal action and (salt/brackish) water intrusion;
furthermore their application on land proved to be very strenuous. Nonetheless, it seems clear
that not one single technique will be able to provide all the answers. Only an integrated use of
complementary geophysical methods may allow us to get a better grip on sedimentation rates
and preservation potential in active estuarine sedimentary environments, a prerequisite to start
validating numerical morphodynamic and stratigraphic models.

Figure 1 Overview map of the tidal flat area Verdronken land van Saeftinge. Coloured
lines indicate location of geophysical data. Full lines = land data; dotted lines = marine data;
green = electric/electromagnetic; red = seismic; black rectangles = pseudo-3D marine seismic
data. The small inset on the right shows an aerial view of a major gully at low tide.

Figure 2 Two sub-bottom profiles recorded with the parametric echosounder (freq. 10 kHz).
Vertical step is one meter; total length of the profiles is approx. 300m. Both profiles show
great detail in the shallow stratification. On the upper profile the lateral displacement of an
ancient tidal gully is clearly observed.

Figure 3a Inverted resistivity section across a tidal marsh, Inverse-Schlumberger array, 1 m

electrode spacing. The vertical structures can be correlated with small (active and/or buried)
tidal gullies. No well-defined horizontal stratification is observed.

Resistivity across Western salt marsh with 6.25 x 6.25 m antenna


Elevation, m








Distance, m

Figure 3b Inverted electromagnetic section (TEM) on a tidal marsh (6.25 m loop size). A
low resistivity layer, with a minimum depth of 3 m and a thickness of 23 m, can be observed
over practically the entire marsh. This layer may indicate saline-water saturated soil.

Figure 3c Inverted marine resistivity section in a tidal gully, dipole-dipole array, 6 m

electrode spacing. The white line indicates the channel floor. No clear distinction is observed
between the water and upper sediments, which indicates highly water-saturated channel-floor