The effects of spatial and temporal variability at the sediment surface on aquatic eddy correlation flux measurements

Jennie E. Rheuban, Peter Berg

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 11:351-359 (2013) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2013.11.351

ABSTRACT: The eddy correlation technique has become a widely used approach to measure ecosystem scale fluxes in aquatic benthic environments; however, there are few theoretical studies designed to guide deployment planning, the characterization of flux variability, or how to correctly interpret measured fluxes. Here, a three-dimensional numerical model for the turbulent transport and mixing in the near-bottom water was used to examine how well variations in vertical flux due to heterogeneities in the benthic community are integrated in eddy correlation measurements. The results showed that an appropriate choice of measuring height above the sediment surface is crucial to obtain an accurate average of the vertical flux from heterogeneous benthic communities. Through regression analysis of modeling results, a set of simple analytical expressions were derived for this threshold measuring height as a function of two parameters: heterogeneity patch size and sediment surface roughness. The same model was also used to examine the time lag between when a change in vertical flux occurs at the sediment surface and when it reaches the measuring point. The results showed that this response time varies by several orders of magnitude depending on flow velocity, sediment surface roughness, and measuring height. Simple analytical expressions were also derived for the response time. Overall, the findings indicate that both the spatial variability in benthic communities and the response to temporal changes are important factors that should be considered in planning eddy correlation measurements and interpreting eddy correlation fluxes.