Transport and degradation of phytoplankton in permeable sediment

Markus Huettel and Antje Rusch

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(3), 2000, 534-549 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.3.0534

ABSTRACT: In flume and field experiments we demonstrate that interfacial water flows, generated when bottom currents interact with sea bed topography, provide a fast and efficient pathway for the transport of suspended phytoplankton into subsurface layers of permeable sandy sediments. The advective transport, associated with small mounds and ripples as commonly found on shelf sediments, increased penetration depth of unicellular algae (Dunaliella spec.) into sandy sediment (permeability k = 4 x 10-11 m2) up to a factor of 7 and flux up to a factor of 9 relative to a smooth control sediment. The pore water flow field produced a distinct distribution pattern of particulate organic matter in the sediment with subsurface concentration maxima and zones depleted of algae. Flux chamber simulations of advective transport of algae into sands of different grain sizes revealed increasing fluxes, algal penetration depths, and degradation rates with increasing permeability of the sediment. Two experiments conducted in intertidal sand flats confirmed the importance of the advective interfacial transport of phytoplankton for natural settings, showing permeability-dependent penetration of planktonic algae into embedded sand cores of different grain sizes. The significance of our results is discussed with respect to particulate organic matter flux and mineralization in shelf sands, and we suggest the concept of a decomposition layer.

Article Links

Please Note