Formation of Microbial Streamers by Flow-Induced Shear and Their Hydrodynamic Effects

Monday, 15 December 2014: 3:10 PM
Jian Gong1, Kyle Anthony Olsen1, Thu Nguyen1, Michael M Tice2 and Geobiology Course 2012 & 20133, (1)Texas A & M University, College Station, TX, United States, (2)Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States, (3)University of Southern California, Earth Science, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Microbial streamers are productive elements of surface-attached microbial communities that paradoxically seem to roughen mats under rapid, high shear flows, potentially exposing the mat to greater risk of erosion. They are common features found in modern hot-spring outflow channels, yet their formation mechanisms and effects on mat erosion are poorly understood. We test a hypothesis that streamers are produced by shear-induced viscoelastic deformation, and that streamers grow to heal detached turbulent boundary layers. Laboratory flume experiments were conducted using Particle Image/Tracking Velocimetry (PIV/PTV) to gain quantitative insights into the behavior of flows around small projections constructed from 3D-printed plastics or hydrated EPS gels, as well as artificial streamers. The combined use of fabricated hard and viscoelastic shapes, tracer particles, sheet lasers and high speed cameras allowed visualization of flows and quantitative measurements. Results show that primary and secondary flows (backflow behind projections) combine to produce deformations that drive the elongation of the top and ultimately initiate streamer formation. With insufficient secondary flows, streamers are not able to rise up from the basal mat. This implies that a combination of sufficient topographic relief and flow strength is required for streamers to form. In addition, flow measurements indicate that the presence of artificial streamers made the surface hydraulically smoother, and in effect reducing bed shear at the base. These results suggest a novel set of feedbacks that could reduce net mat erosion in energetic flows, and could help guide the evaluation of biosignatures in sedimentary rocks deposited in the presence of microbial mats.