Hydrodynamic impacts on biogenic stabilisation and the fate of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) in mixed sediment bedforms.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Rebecca Aspden1, Julie Anne Hope2, Rob Schindler3, Daniel R Parsons4, Leiping Ye5, Jaco Baas6 and David M Paterson1, (1)University of St Andrews, St Andrews, KY16, United Kingdom, (2)University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom, (3)Plymouth University, Plymouth, PL4, United Kingdom, (4)University of Hull, Hull, HU6, United Kingdom, (5)East China Normal University, Shanghai, China, (6)Bangor University, Bangor, United Kingdom
The stability and morphology of bedforms have traditionally been treated as a function of mean flow velocity/non-dimensional bed shear stress and sediment particle size, despite the known influence of key biological components such as extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). EPS is produced by microbial communities and can increase erosion thresholds by more than 300%. However, the mechanisms behind the influence of EPS on sediment transport and bedform dynamics is poorly understood, as is the fate of EPS and exchange of EPS between the sediment bed and water column during ripple formation. The exchange of EPS between the sediment bed and water column is dynamic, with important implications for a range of physical and geochemical processes, with the spatio-temporal variation in EPS content, from source to eventual fate, being extremely important for determining the behaviour and natural variability of sedimentary systems.

This paper reports on a series of flume experiments where a tripartite mixture of sand, clay and model EPS (xanthan gum) was used to create a sediment substrate, which was subject to a unidirectional current (0.8 ms-1 for 10.5 hrs, n=6). For each run the spatio-temporal changes in concentration, distribution, and effect of EPS, on the evolving bed of mixed sediment was monitored throughout, with complete 3D bed morphology scans also acquired at ~360 s intervals. The various substrate mixtures produced bedforms varying from ripples to dunes and biochemical analysis of EPS concentration across the formed bedforms, suggest EPS is winnowed from the sediment – water interface, particularly at the bedform crests. The depth of winnowing in each run was found to be related to the bedform size, with variation in the stoss, crest and trough of the bedforms identified. The loss of EPS was also significantly correlated with the depth to which clay was winnowed, presumably due to a close association between the clay mineral and EPS fractions. The paper will discuss how sediment processes and flow are linked by migration of dissolved and particulate substances into and out of the bed and how this exchange is affected by the topography of the sediment bed and advective pore water transfers. Finally, the implications for natural systems and larger scale sediment-biota linkages will also be discussed.