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Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

Tidal inlet response to sediment infilling of the associated

bay and possible implications of human activities: the
Marennes-Oléron Bay and the Maumusson Inlet, France
Xavier Bertina,, Eric Chaumillona, Aldo Sottolichiob, Rodrigo Pedrerosc
Centre Littoral De Géophysique, Université de La Rochelle, Avenue Michel Crépeau, 17042 La Rochelle, Cedex 1, France
Département de géologie et océanographie, UMR CNRS 5805– Epoc, Université Bordeaux-1, av. des Facultés,
33405 Talence, Cedex, France
Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, 3 avenue Claude Guillemin, BP 6009, 45060 Orléans, Cedex 2, France
Received 17 February 2004; received in revised form 5 November 2004; accepted 9 December 2004


Tidal inlet characteristics are controlled by wave energy, tidal range, tidal prism, sediment supply and direction and
rates of sand delivered to the inlet. This paper deals with the relations between inlet and lagoon evolutions, linked by the
tidal prism. Our study is focused on the Maumusson Inlet and the Marennes-Oléron Bay (first oyster farming area in
Europe), located on the western coast of France. The tidal range (2–6 m) and wave climate (mean height: 1.5 m) place
this tidal inlet system in the mixed energy (tide, waves), tide-dominated category. The availability of high-resolution
bathymetric data since 1824 permits to characterise and quantify accurately morphological changes of both the inlet
and the tidal bay. Since 1824, sediment filling of the tidal bay has led to a 20% decrease in its water volume, and a 35%
reduction of the inlet throat section. Furthermore, the bay is subjected to a very high anthropic pressure, mainly related
to oyster farming. Thus, both natural and human-related processes seem relevant to explain high sedimentation rates.
Current measurements, hydrodynamic modelling and cross-sectional area of the inlet throat are used in order to
quantify tidal prism changes since 1824. Both flood and ebb tidal prism decreased by 35%. Decrease in the Marennes-
Oléron Bay water volume is inferred to be responsible for a part of tidal prism decrease at the inlet. Tidal prisms
decrease may also be explained by an increase in frictional resistance to tidal wave propagation, due to a general
shoaling and oyster farms in the bay. A conceptual model is proposed, taking into account natural and human-related
sedimentation processes, and explaining tidal inlet response to tidal bay evolutions.
r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Tidal inlet; Tidal prism; Tidal bay infilling; Oyster farming

Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (X. Bertin), (A. Sottolichio),
(R. Pedreros).

0278-4343/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1116 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

1. Introduction

Anywhere in the world, the economical and

environmental importance of tidal inlets has been
growing for the last decade. The management of
tidal inlets is no longer only concerned with the
maintenance of navigation channels but also with
new concerns, like adjacent shoreline stability or
water replacement in the lagoons for aquaculture .
Probably due to the novelty of these concerns and
the difficulty to quantify shallow area changes in
the backbarrier, few studies tackle quantitative
relations between backbarrier changes and asso-
ciated inlet response. This leads to a relatively
poor level of understanding of these processes
(Mehta, 1996).
Nevertheless, the relation that links the mini-
mum cross-sectional area (A) and the tidal prism
(O) (function of the tidal range and the morphol-
ogy of the bay; Stauble, 1993) was one of the first
quantitative approaches to tidal inlet understand- Fig. 1. General location of the study area . Bathymetric interval
ing (O’Brien, 1931). This relation is of the form is 2 m and isobathe lines are bolded every 10 m.

A ¼ COn , (1) Further more, these changes are well recorded

where n is a dimensionless value ranging between thanks to accurate bathymetric data sets, available
0.84 and 1.10 (Jarett, 1976) and C is a scaling since 1824. The necessity of understanding the
coefficient acquiring the dimensions necessary for evolution of this area is essential because the
dimensional balance in view of the selected Marennes-Oléron Bay is the first oyster farming
exponent (Hugues, 2002). area of Europe. The first purpose of this paper is
Many similar studies have been conducted to demonstrate morphological evolution of the
(O’Brien, 1969; Nayac, 1971; Jarett, 1976; Hume study area at hyperscale (year to decades and km
and Herdendorf, 1993 ; Michel, 1997; Hugues, scale; Mehta, 1996 ). Tidal prism changes at
2002). However, most of them are based on Maumusson Inlet were studied using current
regression analysis of databases containing the measurements, hydrodynamic modelling and in-
characteristics of a great number of inlets. As a let-throat section variations. The causes respon-
consequence, such studies rarely brought accurate sible for both morphological and hydrodynamical
insight concerning backbarrier/lagoon natural changes are then discussed. Different processes
evolutions and induced changes at the inlet. proposed are finally summarised in a conceptual
Human-related changes affecting the backbarrier, model, which may also be valid in other tidal inlet/
such as dredging in order to increase the tidal lagoon systems.
prism and to maintain the efficiency of the inlet
channel (Cleary and FitzGerald, 2003), are also
rarely well documented. 2. The study area
The Marennes-Oléron Bay, located in the
western coast of France (Fig. 1), display privileged The study area is located in the middle part of
settings to quantify lagoon changes and demon- the western coast of France. This coast belongs to
strate tidal inlet response. Indeed, morphological a passive continental margin and is associated with
changes are very fast since the last two centuries. moderate vertical crustal motions. The Marennes-

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1117

Oléron Bay is a 150 km2 macro-tidal bay that is TESSON, 1973). Due to its two-connection
connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the geometry with the ocean, a major asymmetry
Maumusson Inlet to the south and the Pertuis exists between ebb and flood prisms at the
d’Antioche to the north (Fig. 1). The northern Maumusson Inlet: the flood prism is about 40%
entrance is constituted of an estuarine sandbank less than the ebb prism. Mean freshwater dis-
separated from the shoreline by two tidal channels charges from rivers are of two orders of magnitude
(Chaumillon et al., 2002) and converging in the less than those involved by the tide: 100 m3/s for
Rade des Trousses Channel (RT Channel, Fig. 2). the Charente river and 0.55 m3/s for the Seudre
The intertidal area represents 60% of this tidal River (Tesson, 1973).
bay, mainly constituted of wide mudflats (Gouleau The yearly average significant wave height is
et al., 2000). Two small rivers flow into the about 1.5 m, but a wave can exceed 6 m during
Marennes-Oléron bay: the Charente river to the storm events. West and northwest directions are
north, and the Seudre river to the south. The dominant, representing more than 56% (LHF,
oceanic coast is made of unconsolidated sediments 1994), and inducing a southward net longshore
and is bordered by high aeolian dunes. Northward drift, estimated to be more than 500 000 m3/yr in
of the Maumusson Inlet, the Gatseau headland the southern part of the Oléron Island (Baxerres,
corresponds to a 8 km long sandy spit (Fig. 2). 1978). Wave refraction allows attenuated swells to
Tides affecting the study area are semi-diurnal penetrate Marennes-Oléron Bay, inducing a non-
and range from less than 2 m during neap to more negligible longshore drift, attested by the develop-
than 6 m during spring tides (macro-tidal). Tidal ment of several sandy spits (Fig. 2).
currents are strong within the inlet as well as in These hydrodynamic parameters place the
other tidal channels of the bay (locally up to 2 m/s, Maumusson Inlet in the mixed energy, tide-
dominated category of Hayes (1979). Sedimenta-
tion rate has been locally estimated using 210Pb
measurements (Gouleau et al., 2000), in the
eastern mudflat of the Marennes-Oléron Bay.
Values range from 0.97 cm/yr, on the lower part
of the mudflat and close to oyster farming
installations, to 0.26 cm/yr, on the upper part of
the mudflat. The modern origin of fine sediment
silt and clays has been determined by previous
authors using Cadmium and Sr–Nd isotopes
(Parra et al., 1998; Boutier et al., 2000). These
studies have demonstrated that fine sediments to
be found in Marennes-Oléron mudflats mainly
issued from the Gironde Estuary, located 20 km to
the south (Fig. 1).

3. Methods and data

3.1. Bathymetric data

For historic reasons, related to the implantation

of the national naval dockyard in the Charente
Fig. 2. Detailed toponymic map of the study area. Isobath lines River, five high-resolution bathymetric data sets
are every meter. –10 and 0 m isobath lines are bolded. Location are available on the whole study area since 1824.
of current measurements in 1971, 1973 and 2002 are indicated. These data have been extracted from the data

1118 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

bases of the service hydrographic et océanogra- these errors is significantly reduced for volume
phique de la marine SHOM and DDE 17 (local estimations by the fact that these computations
hydrographic office) and most of them have never take into account a great number (more than
been scientifically analysed. They have then been 45 000 for 1995 data) of sounding points (Thomas
georeferenced using Arcview software (ESRI) and et al., 2002). These data and this methodology has
extensions developed by the SHOM. The local already been used in order to quantify morpholo-
geodesic system new triangulation of France gical changes in the study area (Chaumillon et al.,
(NTF) has been chosen with Clarke 1880 as the 2002, 2003; Bertin et al., 2003, 2004).
reference ellipsoid. Two kinds of co-ordinates have
been calculated: geographic co-ordinates for chan- 3.2. Current measurement
nel and shoreline descriptions and planar Lambert
II co-ordinate for surface and volume computa- 3.2.1. 2002 ADCP measurement
tions. Digital elevation models (DEM) have been In order to quantify the present-day tidal prism
developed using Surfer software with a grid at the entrance of the Maumusson Channel, a
spacing ranging from 20 to 200 m, depending on +13-hour acoustic Doppler current profile
the mean initial data sampling. According to the (ADCP) transect was performed (Fig. 2) during
SHOM, the maximum relative error does not spring tidal conditions (5.9 m tidal range at La
exceed 10 m horizontally and 0.5 m vertically for Rochelle Harbour). The instrument deployed for
data prior to 1970 and 1 m and 0.1 m, respectively, this study was a 600 kHz Workhorse Rio Grande
from this date. This has been checked by the rocky manufactured by RD Instruments. The Rio
outcrops’ stability between each survey and the Grande is a vessel-mounted class of ADCP in
relative error never exceeds 0.35 m in depth for the which the instrument tracks the bottom thereby
five rocky outcrops considered in the study area allowing the user to collect current velocities
(Fig. 3). In addition, the random part included in throughout the water column while steaming the

Fig. 3. Superimposition of identical bathymetric profiles from digital elevation models at different periods (1824, 1882 and 1995) on
rocky outcrops, we consider to have been stable since 1824. The maximum distance among the three cross sections on the outcrops is
less than 0.6 m, confirming bathymetric data accuracy.

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1119

course of a transect. The instrument takes ware program, including vertical and lateral
advantage of BroadBand ADCP technology redu- interpolation and sea-level variations.
cing variance in the velocity estimates by as much
as 100 times when compared with narrowband 3.3. Hydrodynamic modelling
ADCPs. Transects follow a rectangular track that
was surveyed in less than 1 h and covered The availability of four historical bathymetric
important sections of the main channel and data sets (1824, 1882, 1960–1970 and 1995),
margin areas. The ability to complete the loop of covering the whole study area and extending from
an entire transect in less than 1 h allowed for a the Gironde and the north of Ré Island for 1824
velocity profile at the same place along each and 1960–1970 data sets (Fig. 1), enables to
segment of the transect over the course of a full simulate tidal flows time variations on the study
tidal cycle (Geyer, 1993). Each acoustic ping was area.
tagged with a differential corrected position from a The model Telemac2D (Hervouet and Van
DGPS receiver. Data were acquired and merged in Haren, 1994) was used in order to simulate tidal
RD Instruments WinRiver 1.02 software. Flow flows and compute tidal prisms for different
velocities were averaged horizontally over 60 s bathymetric settings. This finite element model
intervals of each transect. WinRiver computes the solves St Venant equations. Space discretisation
discharge, i.e. the total volume of water flowing follows a classic triangle network where mesh sizes
through a cross section of water per unit of time. range between 4000 m to the open sea and 50 m
In the measured section, the discharge is calculated close to the Maumusson Inlet. Boundary condi-
directly from the measured current velocities. In tions include the following: (1) mean annual river
unmeasured sections (near the surface and bottom, water discharges from rivers; (2) tide variations,
and near the banks) the software can extrapolate calculated along the open sea boundary from the
and thus estimate discharge. The algorithm used 17 main tidal harmonic constituents, given by the
for estimating discharge is adopted from Simpson SHOM for 27 points of this boundary. The four
and Oltmann (1990), and Gordon (1989). The simulations were run with the same tunings (initial
estimated discharge over an entire tidal cycle conditions, boundary conditions and physical
allowed to quantify the resultant tidal prism. parameters). The 1995 and 1960–1970 simulations
reproduce very well tide records and current
3.2.2. 1973 current-meter data measurements (Fig. 10), available at the two
Several tidal current data sets are available on entrances of The Marennes-Oléron Bay for these
the study area since 1970. In 1973, data were dates (Fig. 2). As a consequence, differences in
obtained with six rotary current meter at the tidal flows for the four simulations only result
Maumusson Inlet during a complete tidal cycle from bathymetric changes. A similar methodology
and for a 5.90 m tidal range (Fig. 2). Three stations was previously applied by Thomas et al. (2002) at
have recorded tidal flows at the sea surface and at the Mersey Estuary in order to demonstrate
1 m from the sea bottom, every 30 min. Sea-level hydrodynamic changes since 1911.
variations have been digitised from the original
tide record located close to the inlet. Interpolation
laws have then been chosen by observing 2002 4. Results
ADCP data: spline cubic interpolation has been
chosen for lateral interpolation and two part- 4.1. Morphological evolution of the tidal bay
linear for vertical interpolation. Both laws display
good correlation coefficient R2 with ADCP data. The volume estimation between 1824 and 1995
The cross sectional of the inlet has been calculated DEM (Fig. 4) clearly evidences that accretion is
using Surfer software and divided into cells of 5 m dominant in the sediment budget of Marennes-
in x direction and 1 m in z direction. Tidal flows Oléron Bay over the last 171 years: +106 
have finally been calculated with a Matlab soft- 106 m3. We have estimated the corresponding

1120 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

Fig. 4. Digital elevation models of 1824 and 1995 bathymetry. The bold isobath correspond to the isbath 0.

Fig. 5. Differential maps in the Marennes-Oléron Bay between 1824 and 1995, superimposed to 1995 isobath lines.

average sedimentation rate of 0.46 cm/yr, which is in the water volume of the tidal bay (WVB) since
consistent with previous geochemical measure- 1824, being in the order of 20% for a spring tide.
ment on the eastern mudflat (Gouleau et al., Very few areas experience erosion, they are mostly
2000). This sediment infilling has led to a decrease located close to tidal channels (Fig. 5). We

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1121

Surfer software (Fig. 9). From 1824, evolutions

were divided in 3 major stages (Bertin et al., 2004):

(1) From 1824 to 1864 (40 yr), inlet width

decreased from 2 km to less than 1.2 km due
to a southwestward progradation of the
updrift coast. The minimum cross-sectional
area did not change significantly (around
10 000 m2), whereas the channel depth in-
creased from –16 to –26 m. The channel
orientation evolved from N2651 to N2751.
(2) From 1864 to 1946 (82 yr), the channels
Fig. 6. Morphological evolution at the Northern entrance of
the bay since 1824. Sediment accretion since that date result in a
characteristics remained stable: width
decrease in cross section in the order of 15%. (1200 m), minimum cross-sectional area
(around 10 000 m 2) and maximum depth (–24
to –26 m). The channel orientation displayed
no further evolution.
distinguish (1) Erosion areas adjacent to accretion
(3) From 1946 to 2001 (55 yr), the cross-sectional
areas that correspond to channel migration, like at
area and maximum depth decreased consider-
the Maumusson Inlet; (2) erosion areas located in
ably (from 8800 to 6700 m2 and –24 to –15 m,
the central part of tidal channels (southern part of
respectively). The tidal channel shifted south-
the bay), indicating their deepening (locally up to 3
ward ( Fig. 10): its orientation evolved from
meters) since 1824.
N2721 to N2321.
To a great extent, Marennes-Oléron Bay experi-
enced sediment accretion since 1824 (Fig. 5).
Sediment gain occurs in four types of area: (1) We also notice that these evolutions are non-
close to connections with the ocean (Pertuis linear during the last 171 years, as it is attested by
d’Antioche to the North and the Maumusson the filling in sediment of the channel and its
Inlet to the South; area (a), Fig. 6) associated with shifting southward since the last decades (Fig. 11).
a progradation of the shoreline; (2) in the lower
part of intertidal areas (the eastern mudflat, Ronce
bank and Bourgeois bank; area (b), Fig. 5) with 4.3. Morphological evolution of the northern
maximum accretion (up to 3 m) in the lower part entrance
of the intertidal area; (3) in the RT Channel, where
sedimentary accretion attains 10 m since (area (c), Three bathymetric data sets were used in order
Fig. 5); (4) in areas where land reclamation has to characterise morphological evolutions at the
occurred like at the eastern mudflat shoreline and northern entrance of the Marennes-Oléron Bay.
the Seudre Estuary (area (d), Fig. 5). From 1824 to 1995, this entrance of Marennes-
Oléron Bay experienced sediment infilling. Fig. 6
4.2. Morphological evolution of the Maumusson displays lateral sediment accretion in both the
inlet Eastern and the Western Channel as well as an
important shoaling at the Eastern Channel since
Bathymetric (Fig. 7) data were used to produce 1824. During the same period, the top of the sand
9 DEM showing morphological changes of the bank located at the middle of the channel (the
inlet and adjacent shorelines since 1824 (Fig. 8). Longe de Boyard, Chaumillon et al., 2002)
The axis of the isobath –10 m was used to describe experienced little erosion, but the overall entrance
the channel orientation. The minimum cross- cross-sectional area was subjected to a reduction
sectional area was researched and computed using of about 15% throughout the study period.

1122 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

Fig. 7. Superimposition of the countour of oyster farming installations on the positive values of the différential map between 1824 and

4.4. Evolution of the tidal prisms and flows velocities at the RT channel decreased progres-
sively by 10–15% since 1824 (Fig. 13), while its
Hydrodynamic models illustrate how changes in maximum depth decreased by half and its cross
bathymetry have altered flow patterns. Our section decreased by 20%.
analyses have been focused on the two entrances Because the Northern entrance of the Mar-
of the bay, where bathymetric changes are the ennes-Oléron Bay does not correspond to a tidal
most obvious (Maumusson Inlet and RT Channel, inlet sensu stricto, its cross-sectional variations
Fig. 5). Regarding the Maumusson Inlet, max- could not be integrated into the O’Brien relation
imum depth-averaged velocities occur at mid-ebb and thus could not be considered in order to
(Fig. 12) and differ little for the four simulations quantify tidal flows changes. Consequently, only
considered (between 1.7 and 1.8 m/s) while its the Maumusson Inlet throat section variations are
cross-section decreased by 40%. Depth-averaged considered to quantify tidal prism changes since

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1123

Fig. 8. Digital elevation models from 1824 to 1990 of the Maumusson Inlet (Bertin et al., 2004).

Minimum surface area until 1970 was calculated

by bathymetric data acquired during spring tides.
Thus, inlet cross-sectional variations evidenced in
this study (Fig. 9) do not correspond to variations
of tidal range.
Because the cross section (A2002) and the tidal
prism (O2002 ) obtained in 2002 constitute the most
accurate values of the data sets, they have been
introduced into the relation of O’Brien (1) in order
to express the tidal prism Ot at a time ‘‘t’’ as a
function of the corresponding minimum cross
section At:
Fig. 9. Evolution of the minimum cross-sectional area at  
Maumusson Inlet, calculated from the digital elevation models. At Ot n
¼ ,
A2002 O2002
1824. The relation of O’Brien implies that the inlet O2002
throat contracts and enlarges as its tidal prism Ot ¼ p
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi . (2)
A2002 =At
changes. FitzGerald (1996) has also evidenced
short-term variations up to 7% only due to the Relation (2) has permitted to estimate the
predicted changes in the astronomic tidal range. evolution of the ebb tidal prism since 1824

1124 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

Fig. 10. Superposition of field data with the results of 1960–1970 and 1995 simulations. The 2002 velocities at the northern entrance
have been depth averaged from ADCP data and 1971 velocities from three points in vertical direction. In both cases, tidal level
variations and depth-averaged velocities are well reproduced by the model.

(Fig. 11, Table 1), for the dates ‘‘t’’ where we only 5. Discussion
have the minimum cross-sectional area At. These
results suggest a decrease in ebb tidal prism 5.1. The causes of morphological changes in the bay
ranging between 30% and 40% since 1824,
depending on uncertainties in the oldest bathy- Differential maps and volume computations in
metric data sets and on the range of values taken the Marennes-Oléron bay clearly evidenced a
for constant ‘‘n’’ (0.84–1.1; Jarett, 1976). positive sediment budget throughout the last 171
Current measurements and hydrodynamic mod- years (1824–1995). Sedimentary accretion mainly
els have also enabled tidal prisms determinations occured in the lower middle part of intertidal areas
since 1824. The different results obtained, thanks as well as in the RT Channel. We propose two
to these three independent methods, are super- main causes for the sediment filling of the
imposed in Fig. 11 and show a converging Marennes-Oléron Bay.
evolution tendency. Both ebb and flood tidal
prisms experienced a decrease in the order of 5.1.1. Natural processes
40% since 1824, with an acceleration since the last Sediment gain in the Marennes-Oléron Bay
three decades. occured in 4 major areas (see Chapter 5.1).

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1125

Fig. 11. Evolution of the Ebb tidal prism since 1824 deduced from the relation of O’Brien for 1824, 1864, 1882, 1946, 1985, 1990 and
1997 and from measurments for 1973 and 2002.

Accretion areas mainly consist of (1) sand Gironde Estuary, that generates a wide turbid
dominated areas and (2) mud dominated areas plume, deviated northward by the Coriolis effect
(Chaumillon et al., 2003; Weber, 2003). during the ebb, and penetrating the Marennes-
Sand gains occurred close to the connections of Oléron Bay through its two entrances during the
the bay with the ocean and were associated with a flood (Castaing et al., 1979; Parra et al., 1998;
progradation of the shoreline (area (a), Fig. 5). At Boutier et al., 2000). According to numerical
these locations, sand accretion could be attributed simulations, depth-averaged velocities at the RT
to the longshore drift induced by attenuated swells channel have decreased by 10–15% since 1824
that penetrate the bay. This longshore drift is (Fig. 13) while channel cross section decreased by
supported by the development of several sandy about 20%. This indicates a decrease in tidal flows
spits in the bay (Fig. 2). Development of sandy at the northern part of the bay, causing the 1824
spits in the backbarrier has already been proposed channel morphology to be much too large to be
to explain backbarrier infill (FitzGerald, 1996). sustained by the present tidal motion. It has
Mud-gain areas are found in the intertidal zones probably led to high suspended matter deposition
and in the RT channel (area (b) and (c), Fig. 5). and rapid filling up of the channel at the northern
Water filling in the Marennes-Oléron Bay displays entrance.
a very high turbidity (Bassoullet et al., 2000). Sediment infill in tidal bays, lagoons (Freitas
Suspended matter partly originates from the et al., 2002) and related estuaries (Zaitlin et al.,

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Fig. 12. Time evolution of maximum current velocities at the Maumusson Inlet since 1824. For the four simulations, maximum depth-
averaged velocities differ little and are observed at mid-ebb.

natural behaviour of lagoons during high stand sea

level. The study area belongs to a passive
continental margin associated with very moderate
crustal motions, and secular relative sea-level rise
has been estimated at 1–2 mm/y (Wöppelmann,
1997). Such low values are about three times less
than sedimentation rates in the study area,
suggesting ‘‘surplus conditions’’ described by
Nichols (1989). This is in contrast to other lagoons
where high sedimentation rates are related to fast
sea-level rise (Oertel et al., 1992; Hoselmann and
Streif, 2004 and Van Goor et al., 2003).

5.1.2. Human-activity-related processes

The mean sedimentation rates in the Marennes-
Oléron Bay, estimated from volume computations,
Fig. 13. Time evolution of current velocities at the RT Channel are very high in comparison to the values
from 1824, 1882, 1960 and 1995 simulations. A decrease in tidal
current velocity by 10–15% is evidenced.
estimated in other tidal bays and lagoons (Carson
et al., 1988; Nichols, 1989; Oertel et al., 1992;
Morton et al, 2000; Freitas et al., 2002; Konto-
1994; Allen and Posamentier, 1994) during high poulos and Avramidis, 2003). Oyster farms are
stand periods has been widely documented. We deployed over 36 km2 , i.e. 20% of the whole bay
propose that the sediment infill of the whole area and close to 40% of intertidal areas. Since
Marennes-Oléron Bay corresponds partly to a 1985, Marennes-Oléron Bay was considered as

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1127

Table 1
Evolution of minimum cross-sectional area and tidal prisms at the Maumusson Inlet since 1824

Inlet throat section (m2) Ebb tidal prism (106 m3) Flood tidal prism (106 m3)

Deduction from Brien law. Model Current measurements Model Current measurements

1824 95007700 250723 250 145

1882 100007500 265725 243 140
1960–1970 81007100 205720 225
1973 200 140
1995 70007100 175702 190 120
2002 68007100 170 100

overstocked by 100 000 tons of cultured oysters the Mont Saint Michel Bay, France (Bonnot-
and 23 000 tons of wild oysters (Henocque, 2003). Courtois et al., 2002) or the East Frisian Islands,
Consequently, human activities, mainly consisting Germany (Oost and de Haas, 1992; Wang et al.,
of oyster farming, could have induced an increase 1995; FitzGerald, 1996). Land reclamation at the
in sedimentation in the Marennes-Oléron Bay. East Frisian backbarrier is well documented and
Sediment gain is locally very high within the has led to a 30% barrier area decrease since the
lower middle part of several mud and mud- last three centuries, causing subsequent shoaling
dominant flats (eastern mudflat and western and narrowing of the inlets by 52% and lengthen-
mudflat, Bourgeois Bank and Ronce Bank, ing of the barrier by 29%.
Fig. 1). The superimposition of those sediment
gain areas with oyster farming installation con- 5.2. The causes for tidal flow changes
tours (Fig. 7) locally displays a good correlation.
This supports the idea that oyster farming Current measurements, hydrodynamic modelling
installations increase the sedimentation of fine and throat section decrease illustrate a dramatic
particles, by creating obstacles to tidal currents, decrease in tidal prisms since 1824 (in the order of
and to a smaller extent to the wind waves, 40%). Maximum current velocities at the Mau-
favouring their decantation. In addition, Sornin musson Inlet differ little between the four simula-
(1981) has shown that oysters directly contribute tions considered (Fig. 12). This indicates that tidal
to sedimentation by filtering fine sediments and prism decrease is mainly related to cross section
rejecting them in the form of cohesive feces balls. decrease rather than current velocity decrease. This
These hypotheses are supported by geochemical is in good agreement with O’Brien’s (1931, 1969)
measurement, showing higher sedimentation rates law. This also suggests that the Maumusson Inlet
within lower mudflats and close to oyster parks probably stays close to the equilibrium state, that
(Gouleau et al., 2000). corresponds with the instantaneous tidal condi-
Sedimentation gain within the tidal bay is also tions. In the opposite, the RT Channel does not
related to intensive land reclamation (area (d), seem to be in equilibrium with present day
Fig. 5) that has occurred in the study area since the hydrodynamics, as shown by the observed decrease
Middle Age. This has led to a westward translation in tidal current and cross section.
of the shoreline, locally up to 2 km close to the Since the tidal prism is a function of the bay
eastern mudflat since 1824. This sediment gain, morphology (Stauble, 1993) and more exactly the
that is not included in the calculation area (Fig. 2) WVB, the 20% reduction of this water volume
due to a lack of data, has also contributed to the could easily explain one part of the tidal prism
decrease in the WVB. Land reclamation has decrease. However, the relation between the tidal
already been taken responsible for dramatic tidal prism and the WVB is not linear due to the two
prisms decrease and tidal bays in filling, such as in connections of the bay with the ocean. The strong

1128 X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131

asymmetry between ebb and flood tidal prisms stant, by a lack of swell data since 1824) could
evidences this argument. Part of tidal flows also explain the Maumusson Inlet downdrift (i.e.
depends on tidal wave propagation in the bay. southward) migration, as it has been demonstrated
Bathymetric changes (shoaling at the two en- for other inlet systems (Wang et al. , 1995; Cleary
trances of the bay) and oyster farms may also have and FitzGerald, 2003).
a significant impact, adding frictional resistance of
tidal wave propagation into the bay, and conse- 5.4. Mophodynamic evolution of the system: a
quently reducing tidal prisms. The effect of oyster conceptual model (Fig. 14)
farming installations on reducing tidal currents
velocities has already been demonstrated by Both tidal flows and morphological evolution
Sornin (1981) in the study area, showing a velocity display (Fig. 14) dramatic changes since 1824.
reduction of up to 50% close to oyster farming Decrease in tidal prisms has been attributed to
installations. tidal bay sediment infill, inducing a decrease in
WVB and reducing tidal wave propagation in the
5.3. Tidal inlet response to bay changes bay. In addition to natural processes, including
sand transport driven by littoral drift and
The relation between the minimum cross-sec- suspended matter deposition, abnormally high
tional area (A) and the tidal prism (O) (1) was sedimentation rates in the bay have been attrib-
firstly recognised by O’Brien (1931, 1969) and has uted to the very high human activity development
since then been widely documented (Nayac, 1971; in the bay including land reclamation and oyster
Jarett, 1976; Hume and Herdendorf, 1993; Michel, farming.
1997; Hugues, 2002). According to this relation, We propose that these evolutions may be linked
the tidal prism decrease in the Maumusson Inlet by a positive feedback process where the general
since 1824, subsequent to morphological changes filling of the bay led to a decrease in tidal prism,
at the Marennes-Oléron Bay, could easily explain itself inducing sediment accretion. Analogous
the decrease in the Inlet’s cross-sectional area and mechanisms have already been proposed for other
the general shoaling of the Maumusson channel. estuaries (Carter and Woodroffe, 1994; Van der
Given that the inlet cross sections are able to Wal et al., 2002).
contract and enlarge during a simple neap and Previous works of our team (Bertin et al., 2003,
spring tide cycle, and the sediment infilling of the 2004) have demonstrated that there was a
bays are long-term processes (secular to millenary dynamic interaction between the position and the
time scale), it is more likely that bay changes
induce inlet changes. Alternative hypothesis, as-
suming inlet changes could induce morphological
changes in the bay, are generally not considered in
the literature concerning tide-dominated environ-
ments. This is not the case in micro-tidal and
wave-dominated environments, where important
backbarrier changes subsequent to inlet closure are
well documented (Cleary and FitzGerald, 2003;
FitzGerald, 1996). Nevertheless, it cannot be
excluded that inlet narrowing and shoaling may
have altered tidal propagation in the bay, resulting
in a positive feedback leading to tidal current
decrease and subsequent sedimentation in the bay.
According to the equilibrium classification of Fig. 14. Conceptuel model illustrating the couplings between
Bruun (1978), the new equilibrium between tidal the Marennes-Oléron Bay and the Maumusson Inlet, linked by
flows and littoral drift (which we consider con- the tidal prism.

X. Bertin et al. / Continental Shelf Research 25 (2005) 1115–1131 1129

orientation of the Maumusson main Channel and is very high. Human activities and particularly
the behaviour of adjacent shorelines. As channel oyster farming and land reclamation have led to a
characteristics are controlled by the tidal prism, dramatic acceleration of the infilling of the bay;
morphological changes within the bay could be the repercussion must also have affected the
inferred to have an indirect, but significant impact Maumusson Inlet and its adjacent shorelines. As
on the downdrift migration of the main inlet many backbarriers and lagoons may experience a
channel and the behaviour of the adjacent high aquaculture development during the next
shorelines. century, the Marennes-Oléron Bay/Maumusson
Inlet system may be representative of the impacts
of such activities.
6. Conclusion

To our knowledge, few studies tackle long-term

relations between backbarrier and associated tidal
inlet in a quantitative way. The Marennes-Oléron
This study has been supported by the BRGM
Bay/Maumusson Inlet system appears to be a very
(Bureau de Recherche Géologique et Minière) and
suitable area for studying quantitatively tidal inlet
the DGO (Departement de Géologie et d’Océano-
response to lagoon/backbarrier changes. Bathy-
metric data have demonstrated that sediment graphie, Bordeaux I university). The authors are
grateful to Dr. Michel Tesson for providing old
accretion was dominant in the inlet/bay system
current data and for helpful discussion about
over the last 171 years, causing a decrease in the
Marennes-Oléron Bay hydrodynamics. Bathy-
WVB in the order of 20% and a reduction of inlet
metric data sets have been supplied by the Service
throat section in the order of 35%. Fast sedimen-
Hydrographique et Oceanographique de la Marine
tation in the Marennes-Oléron Bay has been
(Convention E61/99, SHOM) and the cell of the
attributed to (1) Natural processes, including sand
DDE 17 (Local hydrographic office). Tidal har-
transport driven by littoral drift and suspended
matter deposition, (2) human activities that mainly monic constituents for the open sea boundary
conditions were provided by the SHOM. The
consist of oyster farming and land reclamation.
authors would also like to sincerely thank A.
Current measurements, hydrodynamic modelling
Nicolle, N. Pouvreau and Dr. I. Brenon for their
and estimations from O’Brien law have shown a
very helpful comments concerning hydrodynamic
40% decrease in tidal prisms at the Maumusson
modelling with telemac2D system. The authors
Inlet since 1824. Both hydrodynamic and mor-
finally want to sincerely thank Dr. Oertel and an
phological changes have been linked in a con-
anonymous reviewer for their very constructive
ceptual model, where shoaling of the tidal bay
caused tidal prisms decrease at the Inlet, subse- reviews. All their suggestions have improved this
paper greatly.
quently causing shoaling and downdrift shifting of
the inlet main channel.
In addition, it is worthwhile to notice that the
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