Characterization of vertical mixing in oscillatory vegetated flows

Maryam Abdolahpour1, Marco Ghisalberti2, Paul Lavery3 and Kathryn McMahon3, (1)University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, (2)University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia, (3)Edith Cowan University, Natural Sciences, perth, Australia
Seagrass meadows are primary producers that provide important ecosystem services, such as improved water quality, sediment stabilisation and trapping and recycling of nutrients. Most of these ecological services are strongly influenced by the vertical exchange of water across the canopy-water interface. That is, vertical mixing is the main hydrodynamic process governing the large-scale ecological and environmental impact of seagrass meadows. The majority of studies into mixing in vegetated flows have focused on steady flow environments whereas many coastal canopies are subjected to oscillatory flows driven by surface waves. It is known that the rate of mass transfer will vary greatly between unidirectional and oscillatory flows, necessitating a specific investigation of mixing in oscillatory canopy flows.

In this study, we conducted an extensive laboratory investigation to characterise the rate of vertical mixing through a vertical turbulent diffusivity (Dt,z). This has been done through gauging the evolution of vertical profiles of concentration (C) of a dye sheet injected into a wave-canopy flow. Instantaneous measurement of the variance of the vertical concentration distribution ( allowed the estimation of a vertical turbulent diffusivity (). Two types of model canopies, rigid and flexible, with identical heights and frontal areas, were subjected to a wide and realistic range of wave height and period.

The results showed two important mechanisms that dominate vertical mixing under different conditions: a shear layer that forms at the top of the canopy and wake turbulence generated by the stems. By allowing a coupled contribution of wake and shear layer mixing, we present a relationship that can be used to predict the rate of vertical mixing in coastal canopies. The results further showed that the rate of vertical mixing within flexible vegetation was always lower than the corresponding rigid canopy, confirming the impact of plant flexibility on canopy-flow interactions.