The Effects Of Physical And Biological Cohesion On Bedforms
Abstract:Most coastal sediments consist of complex mixtures of cohesionless sands, physically-cohesive clays and extra cellular polymeric substances (EPS) that impart biological cohesion. Yet, our ability to predict bedform dimensions in these substrates is reliant on predictions based exclusively on cohesionless sand. We present findings from the COHBED project – which explicitly examines how bedform dynamics are modified by natural cohesion.
Our experimental results show that for ripples, height and length are inversely proportional to initial clay content and bedforms take longer to appear, with no ripples when clay content exceeds 18%. When clay is replaced by EPS the development time and time of first appearance of ripples both increase by two orders of magnitude, with no bedforms above 0.125% EPS. For dunes, height and length are also inversely proportional to initial substrate clay content, resulting in a transition from dunes to ripples normally associated with velocity decreases. Addition of low EPS concentrations into the substrate results in yet smaller bedforms at the same clay contents and at high EPS concentrations, biological cohesion supersedes all electrostatic bonding, and bedform size is no longer related to mud content. The contrast in physical and biological cohesion effects on bedform development result from the disparity between inter-particle electrostatic bonding of clay particles and EPS grain coating and strands that physically link sediments together, which effects winnowing rates as bedforms evolve.
These findings have wide ranging implications for bedform predictions in both modern and ancient environments. Coupling of biological and morphological processes not only requires an understanding of how bedform dimensions influence biota and habitat, but also how benthic species can modify bedform dimensions. Consideration of both aspects provides a means in which fluid dynamics, sediment transport and ecosystem energetics can be linked to yield improved predictions of morphological and habitat adjustment.