We performed a series of laboratory experiments to investigate the interactions of a turbulent wave boundary layer with a predominantly silt-size sediment bed. Quasi-steady, turbulent, high-density suspensions (HDS) formed over a wide range of wave conditions and had near-bed (~1 mm above bed) concentrations ranging from 17 to 81 g/l scaling roughly with the wave orbital velocity. HDS were defined by the presence of a lutocline, an abrupt change in vertical concentration gradient. Despite the initial bed being 70% silt and 20% sand, HDS had significant near-bed sand fractions ranging from 27 to 78%. Winnowing of the bed caused more concentrated HDS to be coarser grained, which in turn caused the suspensions to be thinner because of the greater settling velocity of the sediment. Our experiments are consistent with a dynamic feedback model where suspended sediment is limited through sediment-induced stratification expressed with a bulk Richardson number. However, our computed values of the bulk Richardson number converge to a value that is an order of magnitude less than the critical value of 0.25 that is typically assumed. The experimental wave orbital velocities (15–60 cm/s) and periods (3–8 s), as well as the characteristics of the HDS and the bed in our experiments, were comparable to observations made on the Eel shelf, California, during storm conditions when fluid mud has been observed.

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