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Free Content A modelling study of discontinuous biological irrigation

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Irrigation of infaunal dwellings can lead to significant alteration of solute distributions in sediments. As a result, sediment-seawater fluxes of nutrients and dissolved carbon are greatly enhanced, and the biology of benthic communities is affected. The most realistic mathematical representation of irrigation and its effect on sediment geochemistry is Aller's (1980) cylinder model. One critical assumption of this model is that burrows are irrigated continually, and that burrow water solute concentrations are identical to overlying water concentrations at all times. However, the vast majority of infaunal tube- and burrow-dwelling organisms irrigate periodically, i.e. in an on/off cycle. During periodic irrigation, the solute concentration at the tube wall may vary between the limits imposed by the flux from the porewater and the concentration in the overlying water. We introduce modifications to the cylinder model which allow for periodic irrigation. We assess how periodic irrigation affects solute profiles and fluxes of two chemical constituents, silica and ammonium, for different population densities (distance between burrows) and organism sizes (burrow radii). Silica and ammonium follow first and zeroth order reaction kinetics, respectively, and illustrate the behavior of two general reaction classes.

Model results show that the effects of periodic irrigation vary with the class of reaction considered. For silica, radially-averaged profiles during discontinuous irrigation varied less than 15% from those with continuous irrigation for nearly all burrow sizes, burrow distances and reaction rate constants considered. However, we observed large temporal changes (as much as a factor of 6) in the areally-averaged silica flux over the irrigation cycle. Despite this time-dependence, the time-averaged silica flux was similar to that calculated for the continuous case. For ammonia, radially-averaged solute profiles were extremely sensitive to the duration of irrigation. In this case, the differences between discontinuous and continuous irrigation were greatest when the duration of irrigation was short (e.g. 5 min), and when the inter-burrow distance was small. As with silica, there was a strong time-dependence in areally-averaged ammonia flux when irrigation was periodic. However, the time-averaged ammonia flux is identical to the flux calculated for continuous irrigation. Our results suggest that irrigation behavior can affect the local burrow environment and this imposes a time dependence on solute fluxes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 1994

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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