Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 30 Issue 03

View Issue TOC
Volume 30, No. 3
Pages 84 - 97

Modeling the Process Response of Coastal and Deltaic Systems to Human and Global Changes: Focus on the Mekong System

Ehab Meselhe Dano RoelvinkChristopher WackermanFei XingVo Quoc Thanh
Article Abstract

Coastal zones are constantly changing in response to meteorological and hydrodynamic conditions. Water levels associated with storms, coupled with wind-driven waves, can significantly reshape coastal and deltaic geomorphology. Conversely, coastal wetlands attenuate waves, surge, and currents. These interactions have profound implications for ecosystem function and human infrastructure. This article discusses how predictive numerical models and remote-sensing techniques can advance understanding of the dominant process response (and feedbacks) of coastal and deltaic systems to a wide range of natural and anthropogenic changes. Remote-sensing techniques can provide valuable information at large spatial scales (101–103 km2) and at temporal scales ranging from days to decades that can be used to parameterize and validate numerical models, especially in regions such as the Mekong Delta where in situ data are sparse. Applications to the Mekong Delta system illuminate how modeling tools can reliably predict and describe system dynamics. Numerical modeling supported by remote-sensing information is an effective approach for evaluating and examining restoration and protection strategies, and for ameliorating the effects of climate change, natural hazards, and anthropogenic alterations to coastal ecosystems and human communities.


Meselhe, E., D. Roelvink, C. Wackerman, F. Xing, and V.Q. Thanh. 2017. Modeling the process response of coastal and deltaic systems to human and global changes: Focus on the Mekong system. Oceanography 30(3):84–97, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2017.317.


Aerts, J.C., W.J. Wouter Botzen, K. Emanuel, N. Lin, H. de Moel, and E.O. Michel-Kerjan. 2014. Evaluating flood resilience strategies for coastal megacities. Science 344:473–475, https://doi.org/​10.1126/science.1248222.

Allison, M.A. 1998. Historical changes in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta front. Journal of Coastal Research 14:1,269–1,275.

Allison, M.A., C.R. Demas, B.A. Ebersole, B.A. Kleiss, C.D. Little, E.A. Meselhe, N.J. Powell, T.C. Pratt, and B.M. Vosburg. 2012. A water and sediment budget for the lower Mississippi–Atchafalaya River in flood years 2008–2010: Implications for sediment discharge to the oceans and coastal restoration in Louisiana. Journal of Hydrology 432:84–97, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.02.020.

Allison, M.A., H.D. Weathers III, and E.A. Meselhe. In press. Bottom morphology in the Song Hau distributary channel, Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. Continental Shelf Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.csr.2017.05.010.

Allison, M.A., and C.F. Neill. 2002. Accumulation rates and stratigraphic character of the modern Atchafalaya River prodelta, Louisiana. Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions 53:1,031–1,040.

Anthony, E.J., G. Brunier, M. Besset, M. Goichot, P. Dussouillez, and V.L. Nguyen. 2015. Linking rapid erosion of the Mekong River delta to human activities. Scientific Reports 5:14745, https://doi.org/​10.1038/srep14745.

Barua, D.K. 1990. Suspended sediment movement in the estuary of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system. Marine Geology 91, 243–253, https://doi.org/10.1016/0025-3227(90)90039-M.

Bowers, D.G., and C.E. Binding. 2006. The optical properties of mineral suspended particles: A review and synthesis. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 67:219–230, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.ecss.2005.11.010.

Bravard, J.P., M. Goichot, and H. Tronchère. 2014. An assessment of sediment-transport processes in the Lower Mekong River based on deposit grain sizes, the CM technique and flow-energy data. Geomorphology 207:174–189, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.geomorph.2013.11.004.

Caldwell, R.C., and D.A. Edmonds. 2014. The effects of sediment properties on deltaic processes and morphologies: A numerical modeling study. Journal of Geophysical 119(5):961–982, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2013JF002965.

Carew-Reid, J. 2008. Rapid assessment of the extent and impact of sea level rise in Viet Nam. Climate Change Discussion Paper 1, International Centre for Environmental Management 82.

Curran, P.J., and E.M.M. Novo. 1988. The relationship between suspended sediment concentration and remotely sensed spectral radiance: A review. Journal of Coastal Research 4:351–368.

Deltares. 2011. Simulation of multi-dimensional hydrodynamic flows and transport phenomena, including sediments. User Manual Delft-3D Flow.

Dennison, W.C. 2008. Environmental problem solving in coastal ecosystems: A paradigm shift to sustainability. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 77(2):185–196, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.ecss.2007.09.031.

Doxaran, D., J.M. Froidefond, and P. Castaing. 2003. Remote-sensing reflectance of turbid sediment dominated waters: Reduction of sediment type variations and changing illumination conditions effects by use of reflectance ratios. Applied Optics 42:2,623–2,634, https://doi.org/10.1364/AO.42.002623.

Doxaran, D., J.M. Froidefond, P. Castaing, and M. Babin. 2009. Dynamics of the turbidity maximum zone in a macrotidal estuary (the Gironde, France): Observations from field and MODIS satellite data. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 81:321–332, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2008.11.013.

Doxaran, D., J.M. Froidefond, S. Lavender, and P. Castaing. 2002. Spectral signature of highly turbid waters: Application with SPOT data to quantify suspended particulate matter concentrations. Remote Sensing of Environment 81:149–161, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0034-4257(01)00341-8.

Edmonds, D.A., and R.L. Slingerland. 2007. Mechanics of river mouth bar formation: Implications for the morphodynamics of delta distributary networks. Journal of Geophysical Research 112, F02034, https://doi.org/10.1029/2006JF000574.

Eidam, E.F., C.A. Nittrouer, A.S. Ogston, D.J. DeMaster, J.P. Liu, T.T. Nguyen, T.N. Nguyen. In press. Dynamic controls on shallow clinoform geometry: Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Continental Shelf Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2017.06.001.

Erban, L.E., S.M. Gorelick, and H.A. Zebker. 2014. Groundwater extraction, land subsidence, and sea-level rise in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam. Environmental Research Letters 9:84010, https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/9/8/084010.

Ericson, J.P., C.J. Vörösmarty, S.L. Dingman, L.G. Ward, and M. Meybeck. 2006. Effective sea level rise and deltas: Causes of change and human dimension implications. Global Planet Change 50:63–82, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2005.07.004.

Gagliano, S.M., and W.G. McIntire. 1968. Reports on the Mekong River Delta. Technical Report #57, Coastal Studies Institute, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 145 pp.

Gaweesh, A., and E.A. Meselhe. 2016. Evaluation of sediment diversion design attributes and their impact on the capture efficiency. Journal of Hydraulic Engineering 142(5), https://doi.org/​10.1061/(ASCE)HY.1943-7900.0001114.

Giosan, L., J. Syvitski, S. Constantinescu, and J. Day. 2014. Protect the world’s deltas. Nature 516(7529):31–33, https://doi.org/10.1038/516031a.

Hein, H., B. Hein, and T. Pohlmann. 2013. Recent sediment dynamics in the region of Mekong water influence. Global Planet Change 110:183–194, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2013.09.008.

Holyer, R.J. 1978. Toward universal multispectral suspended sediment algorithms. Remote Sensing of Environment 7:323–338, https://doi.org/​10.1016/0034-4257(78)90023-8.

Hori, K., Y. Saito, Q. Zhao, X. Cheng, P. Wang, Y. Sato, and C. Li. 2001. Sedimentary facies of the tide-dominated paleo-Changjiang (Yangtze) estuary during the last transgression. Marine Geology 177(3):331–351, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0025-3227(01)00165-7.

Hori, K., Y. Saito, Q. Zhao, and P. Wang. 2002. Architecture and evolution of the tide dominated Changjiang (Yangtze) River delta, China. Sedimentary Geology 146(3):249–264, https://doi.org/​10.1016/S0037-0738(01)00122-1.

Jian, J., P.J. Webster, and C.D. Hoyos. 2009. Large-scale controls on Ganges and Brahmaputra river discharge on intraseasonal and seasonal time-scales. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorology Society 135(639):353–370, https://doi.org/10.1002/qj.384.

Kilham, N.E., and D. Roberts. 2011. Amazon River time series of surface sediment concentration from MODIS. International Journal of Remote Sensing 32:2,659–2,679, https://doi.org/10.1080/01431161003713044.

Kilham, N.E., D. Roberts, and M.B. Singer. 2012. Remote sensing of suspended sediment concentration during turbid flood conditions on the Feather River, California: A modeling approach. Water Resources Research 48, W01521, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011WR010391.

Kim, W., D. Mohrig, R. Twilley, C. Paola, and G. Parker. 2009. Is it feasible to build new land in the Mississippi River Delta? Eos 90:373–374, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009EO420001.

Kirk, J.T.O. 1994. Light and Photosynthesis in Aquatic Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 401 pp.

Kondolf, G.M., G. Annandale, and Z.A.N. Rubin. 2015. Sediment starvation from dams in the Lower Mekong River Basin: Magnitude of the effect and potential mitigation opportunities. E-proceedings 36th International Association of Hydraulic Research World Congress, http://app.iahr2015.info/programma_details/3440.

Lesser, G.R., J.A. Roelvink, J.A.T.M. Van Kester, and G.S. Stelling. 2004. Development and validation of a three-dimensional morphological model. Coastal Engineering 51:883–915, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.coastaleng.2004.07.014.

Long, C.M., and T.M. Pavelsky. 2013. Remote sensing of suspended sediment concentration and hydrological connectivity in a complex wetland environment. Remote Sensing of Environment 129:197–209, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.rse.2012.10.019.

Lu, X.X., S. Li, M. Kummu, R. Padawangi, and J.J. Wang. 2014. Observed changes in the water flow at Chiang Saen in the lower Mekong: Impacts of Chinese dams? Quarterly International 336:145–157, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.quaint.2014.02.006.

Manh, N.V., N.V. Dung, N.N. Hung, M. Kummu, B. Merz, and H. Apel. 2015. Future sediment dynamics in the Mekong Delta floodplains: Impacts of hydropower development, climate change and sea level rise. Global and Planetary Change 127:22–33, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.gloplacha.2015.01.001.

McGranahan, G., D. Balk, and B. Andreson. 2007. The rising tide: Assessing the risk of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones. Environment and Urbanization 19(1):17–37, https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247807076960.

McLachlan, R.L., A.S. Ogston, and M.A. Allison. In press. Implications of tidally-varying bed stress and intermittent estuarine stratification on fine-​sediment dynamics through the Mekong’s tidal river to estuarine reach. Continental Shelf Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2017.07.014.

McSweeney, C., G. Lizcano, M. New, and X. Lu. 2010. The UNDP climate change country profiles: Improving the accessibility of observed and projected climate information for studies of climate change in developing countries. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 91:157–166, https://doi.org/10.1175/2009BAMS2826.1.

Mertes, L.A.K., M.O. Smith, and J.B. Adams. 1993. Estimating suspended sediment concentrations in surface waters of the Amazon River wetlands from Landsat images. Remote Sensing of Environment 43:281–301, https://doi.org/​10.1016/0034-4257(93)90071-5.

Meselhe, E.A., M.M. Baustian, and M.A. Allison, eds. 2015. Basin Wide Model Development for the Louisiana Coastal Area Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study. The Water Institute of the Gulf. Prepared for and funded by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Baton Rouge, LA, 314 pp.

Meselhe, E.A., K.M. Sadid, and M.A. Allison. 2016. Riverside morphological response to pulsed sediment diversion. Geomorphology 270:184–202, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2016.07.023.

Miller, R.L., C.C. Liu, C.J. Buonassissi, and A.M. Wu. 2011. A multi-sensor approach to examining the distribution of total suspended matter (TSM) in the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System, NC, USA. Remote Sensing 3:962–974, https://doi.org/​10.3390/rs3050962.

Milliman, J.D., and K.L. Farnsworth. 2013. River Discharge to the Coastal Ocean: A Global Synthesis. Cambridge University Press.

Milliman, J.D., and J.P. Syvitski. 1992. Geomorphic/​tectonic control of sediment discharge to the ocean: The importance of small mountainous rivers. Journal of Geology 100(5):525–544, https://doi.org/10.1086/629606.

MONRE (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment). 2009. Climate Change, Sea Level Rise Scenarios for Vietnam. Hanoi, 33 pp.

Munday, J.C., T.T. Alfoldi. 1979. LANDSAT test of diffuse reflectance models for aquatic suspended solids measurement. Remote Sensing of Environment 8:169–183, https://doi.org/10.1016/​0034-4257(79)90015-4.

Nittrouer, C.A., D.J. DeMaster, E.F. Eidam, T.T. Nguyen, J.P. Liu, A.S. Ogston, and P.V. Phung. 2017. The Mekong continental shelf: The primary sink for deltaic sediment particles and their passengers. Oceanography 30(3):60–70, https://doi.org/​10.5670/oceanog.2017.314.

Nowacki, D.J., A.S. Ogston, C.A. Nittrouer, A.T. Fricke, and V.P.D. Tri. 2015. Sediment dynamics in the lower Mekong River: Transition from tidal river to estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research 120:6,363–6,383, https://doi.org/​10.1002/2015JC010754.

Nguyen, A.D., H.H.G. Savenije, D.N. Pham, and D.T. Tang. 2008. Using salt intrusion measurements to determine the freshwater discharge distribution over the branches of a multi-channel estuary: The Mekong Delta case. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 77:433–445, https://doi.org/10.1016/​j.ecss.2007.10.010.

Ogston, A.S., M.A. Allison, J.C. Mullarney, and C.A. Nittrouer. In press. Sediment- and hydro-​dynamics of the Mekong Delta: From tidal river to continental shelf. Continental Shelf Research.

Paola, C., R.R. Twilley, D.A. Edmonds, W. Kim, D. Mohrig, G. Parker, E. Viparelli, and V.R. Voller. 2011. Natural processes in delta restoration: Application to the Mississippi Delta. Annual Review of Marine Science 3(1):67–91, https://doi.org/​10.1146/​annurev-​marine-120709-142856.

Park, E., and E.M. Latrubesse. 2014. Modeling suspended sediment distribution patterns of the Amazon River using MODIS data. Remote Sensing of Environment 147:232–242, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.rse.2014.03.013.

Pavelsky, T.M., and L.C. Smith. 2009. Remote sensing of suspended sediment concentration, flow velocity, and lake recharge in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, Canada. Water Resources Research 45, W11417, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008WR007424.

Rabouille, C., D.J. Conley, M.H. Dai, W.J. Cai, C.T.A. Chen, B. Lansard, R. Green, K. Yin, P.J. Harrison, M. Dagg, and B. McKee. 2008. Comparison of hypoxia among four river-​dominated ocean margins: The Changjiang (Yangtze), Mississippi, Pearl, and Rhone Rivers. Continental Shelf Research 28(12):1,527–1,537, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.csr.2008.01.020.

Ritchie, J.C., F.R. Schiebe, and J.R. McHenry. 1976. Remote sensing of suspended sediments in surface waters. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 42:1,539–1,545.

Ritchie, J.C., P.V. Zimba, and J.H. Everitt. 2003. Remote sensing techniques to assess water quality. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 69(6):695–704.

Smith, J.E., S.J. Bentley, G. Snedden, and C. White. 2015. What role do hurricanes play in sediment delivery to subsiding river deltas? Scientific Reports 5:17582, https://doi.org/10.1038/srep17582.

Sravanthi, N., I.V. Ramana, A.P. Yunus, M. Ashraf, M.M. Ali, and A.C. Narayana. 2013. An algorithm for estimating suspended sediment concentrations in the coastal waters of India using remotely sensed reflectance and its application to coastal environments. International Journal of Environmental Research 7(4):841–850.

Stumpf, R.P., and J.R. Pennock. 1989. Calibration of a general optical equation for remote sensing of suspended sediments in a moderately turbid estuary. Journal of Geophysical Research 94(C10):14,363–14,371, https://doi.org/​10.1029/JC094iC10p14363.

Sutherland, J., D.J.R. Walstra, T.J. Chesher, L.C. Van Rijn, and H.N. Southgate. 2003. Evaluation of coastal area modelling systems at an estuary mouth. Coastal Engineering 51:119–142, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.coastaleng.2003.12.003.

Thanh, V.Q., J. Reyns, C. Wackerman, E.F. Eidam, and D. Roelvink. In press. Modelling suspended sediment dynamics on the subaqueous delta of the Mekong River. Continental Shelf Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2017.07.013.

Thuy, N.N. 1979. Tides in the Gulf of Thailand and in the coastal regions of the Mekong delta. Symposium, Can-Tho Institute (in Vietnamese).

Vinh, V.D., S. Ouillon, N.V. Thao, and N.N. Tien. 2016. Numerical simulations of suspended sediment dynamics due to seasonal forcing in the Mekong coastal area. Water 8(6):255, https://doi.org/10.3390/w8060255.

Wackerman, C., A. Hayden, and J. Jonik. In press. Deriving spatial and temporal context for point measurements of suspended sediment concentration using remote sensing imagery in the Mekong Delta. Continental Shelf Research.

Walling, D.E. 2008. The changing sediment load of the Mekong River. Ambio 37:150–157, https://doi.org/​10.1579/0044-7447(2008)37​[150:TCSLOT]​2.0.CO;2.

Walsh, J.P., and C.A. Nittrouer. 2009. Understanding fine-grained river-sediment dispersal on continental margins. Marine Geology 263(1):34–45, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.margeo.2009.03.016.

Wang, J.J., and X.X. Lu. 2010. Estimation of suspended sediment concentrations using Terra MODIS: An example from the lower Yangtze River, China. Science of the Total Environment 408:1,131–1,138, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.11.057.

Wolanski, E., N.H. Nhan, and S. Spagnol. 1998. Sediment dynamics during low flow conditions in the Mekong River estuary, Vietnam. Journal of Coastal Research 14(2):472–482.

Wright, L.D., and J.M. Coleman. 1974. Mississippi River mouth processes: Effluent dynamics and morphologic development. Journal of Geology 82(6):751–778, https://doi.org/10.1086/​628028.

Wu, H., J. Zhu, and B.H. Choi. 2010. Links between saltwater intrusion and subtidal circulation in the Changjiang Estuary: A model-guided study. Continental Shelf Research 30:1,891–1,905, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2010.09.001.

Xing, F., E.A. Meselhe, M.A. Allison, and H.D. Weathers III. In press. Analysis and numerical modeling of the flow and sand dynamics in the lower Song Hau channel, Mekong Delta. Continental Shelf Research.

Xu, K., J. Zhu, and Y. Gu. 2012. Impact of the eastern water diversion from the south to the north project on the saltwater intrusion in the Changjiang Estuary in China. Acta Oceanologica Sinica 31:47–58, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13131-012-0205-0.

Xue, P., C. Chen, P. Ding, R.C. Beardsley, H. Lin, J. Ge, and Y. Kong. 2009. Saltwater intrusion into the Changjiang River: A model-guided mechanism study. Journal of Geophysical Research 114:1–15, https://doi.org/10.1029/2008JC004831.

Xue, Z., J.P. Liu, and Q. Ge. 2011. Changes in hydrology and sediment delivery of the Mekong River in the last 50 years: Connection to damming, monsoon, and ENSO. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 36:296–308, https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.2036.

Yuill, B.T., A. Gaweesh, M.A. Allison, and E.A. Meselhe. 2015. Morphodynamic evolution of a Lower Mississippi River channel bar after sand mining. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 41(4):526–542, https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.3846.

Yuill, B.T., A.K. Khadka, J. Pereira, M.A. Allison, and E.A. Meselhe. 2016. Morphodynamics of the erosional phase of crevasse-splay evolution and implications for river sediment diversion function. Geomorphology 259:12–29, https://doi.org/​10.1016/j.geomorph.2016.02.005.

Zhu, Z., and C.E. Woodcock. 2012. Object-based cloud and cloud shadow detection in Landsat imagery. Remote Sensing of Environment 118:83–94, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2011.10.028.