Breathing sediments: The control of diffusive transport across the sediment-water interface by periodic boundary-layer turbulence

Lorke, Andreas, Beat Müller, Martin Maerki, Alfred Wüest

Limnol. Oceanogr., 48(6), 2003, 2077-2085 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2003.48.6.2077

ABSTRACT: We performed combined in situ measurements of bottom boundary-layer turbulence and of diffusive oxygen fluxes at the sediment-water interface in a medium-sized mesotrophic lake. The turbulence was driven by internal seiching with a period of 18 h. This periodic forcing, a prominent feature of enclosed water bodies, led to distinct deviations of the structure and the dynamics of the bottom boundary layer from the classical law-of-the-wall theory. A major feature was a phase lag between the current velocity and the turbulent energy dissipation of approximately 10% of the seiching period (1.5-2 h). The oxygen flux into the sediment was controlled by the diffusive boundary layer, the thickness of which varied between 0.16 and 0.84 mm during the course of a seiching period, and was strongly affected by the periodic bottom boundary-layer turbulence. The rate of dissipation of turbulent energy in the bottom boundary layer allowed us to define the Batchelor length for dissolved oxygen, which quantifies the smallest scales of oxygen fluctuations and provides an appropriate scaling for the diffusive boundary-layer thickness and the corresponding oxygen fluxes. An analysis of the governing time scales revealed the importance of turbulence in controlling the small-scale spatial heterogeneity of the diffusive fluxes. Higher turbulence causes the diffusive boundary layer (DBL) to follow the sediment topography more smoothly, resulting in an increased area-averaged flux due to the greater effective surface area.

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