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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 448:271-287 (2012)  -  DOI:

Wave and tidally driven flows in eelgrass beds and their effect on sediment suspension

Jennifer C. R. Hansen, Matthew A. Reidenbach*

Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA

ABSTRACT: Seagrass beds alter their hydrodynamic environment by inducing drag on the flow, thereby attenuating wave energy and near-bottom currents. This alters the turbulent structure and shear stresses within and around the seagrass bed that are responsible for the suspension and deposition of sediment. To quantify these interactions, velocity, pressure, and sediment measurements were obtained across a density gradient of an eelgrass Zostera marina bed within a shallow coastal bay (1 to 2 m depth). Eelgrass beds were found to reduce near-bottom mean velocities by 70 to 90%, while wave heights were reduced 45 to 70% compared to an adjacent unvegetated region. Wave orbital velocities within the eelgrass bed were reduced by 20% compared to flow above the bed, primarily acting as a low-pass filter by removing high-frequency wave motion. However, relatively little reduction in wave energy occurred at lower wave frequencies, suggesting that longer period waves were able to effectively penetrate the seagrass meadow. Average bottom shear stresses (τb) at the unvegetated region were τb = 0.17 ± 0.08 N m–2, significantly larger than the critical stress threshold necessary for sediment entrainment of 0.04 N m–2. Within the eelgrass bed, τb = 0.03 ± 0.02 N m–2 and stresses were below the critical stress threshold during 80% of the time period of measurement. Expansion of eelgrass within the coastal bay has thus altered the dynamics of the seafloor from an erosional environment to one that promotes deposition of suspended sediment, enhancing light penetration throughout the water column and creating a positive feedback for eelgrass growth.

KEY WORDS: Zostera marina · Seagrass · Waves · Turbulence · Boundary layer · Sediment resuspension

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Cite this article as: Hansen JCR, Reidenbach MA (2012) Wave and tidally driven flows in eelgrass beds and their effect on sediment suspension. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 448:271-287.

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