Mobile bedform dynamics approaching a bedload parting site: Pentland Firth, northeast UK

The Pentland Firth between mainland Scotland and Orkney is an area of the UK continental shelf that experiences extreme tidal flows (>3 m/s). This study presents a time series of bathymetric data coupled with a tidal flow model to examine hydrodynamics and bedform response at the eastern approaches to the Pentland Firth. These observations were additionally augmented by sediment grain type and ADCP data to validate the numerical flow model. Tidal flows of the Pentland Firth result from a tidal phase difference between the east and west approaches to the channel. A resulting barotropic pressure gradient leads to flow accelerations that locally exceed 5 m/s. The extreme tidal setting of the Pentland Firth's eastern approach was found to promote distinct bedforms that are spatially varied in geomorphology with distance from the Pentland Firth. Sediment analysis also showed a decreasing grain size trend also with distance from the Pentland Firth. The modelled residual tidal current shows strong agreement with the sediment transport pathways, supported by the bedform migration direction. The energetic tidal flows of the Pentland Firth's eastern approach interacts with the highly irregular coastline, generating residual tidal counter currents leeward of flow obstructions. These counter currents (i.e. residual tidal current vortices) were reflected in bedform migrations and thence the sediment transport pathways. As the Pentland Firth is considered as a bedload parting site, the residual tidal current vortices are expected to influence the rate of erosion at the bedload parting site, by recirculating sediment back upstream as a counter current inshore of the main flow. The modification of sediment transport pathways by residual tidal current vortices may affect the development of nearshore and offshore engineering, and should be considered in any initial site assessment.


Armstrong C, Howe JA, Allen C, Watson P

Marine Geology 443
10, 26, 2021
Pages: 106686
DOI: 10.1016/j.margeo.2021.106686