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A reactive-transport model has been applied to investigate the dynamics of the sulfate-methane transition zone (SMTZ) in nearshore sediments of Aarhus Bay (Denmark). The sediments are influenced by seasonal variations of temperature and particulate organic carbon (POC) deposition flux at the sediment-water interface. Initially, the model was calibrated at steady state using field data collected at two sites (M1 and M5) in December 2004, and included a dynamic gas phase which determines the depth of the SMTZ. Simulations were then performed under transient conditions of heat propagation in the porous medium, which influenced the solubility of gaseous methane, the diffusion of solutes as well as the kinetic and bioenergetic constraints on redox conditions in the system. Results revealed important variations in local rates of anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) over a seasonal cycle due to temperature variation. Seasonal perturbations in POC depositional flux had no influence on AOM rates but did have a strong bearing on sulfate reduction rates in the surface layers of the simulations at both stations. At M5, where the SMTZ was located 63 cm below the sediment-water interface, depth integrated AOM rates varied between 76 and 178 nmol cm-2 d-1. At M1, where the deeper SMTZ (221 cm) experienced less thermal variation, AOM rates varied relatively less (20 to 24 nmol cm-2 d-1). Furthermore, local and depth-integrated AOM rates over the year did not show a simple response to bottom water temperature but exhibited a hysteresis-type behavior related to time lags in solute transport and heat propagation. Overall, the solute concentration profiles were not very sensitive to the seasonal variability in rates or gas transport and the modeled vertical displacement of the SMTZ was limited to <1 cm at M1 and 2–3 cm at M5. The results suggest that the significantly larger apparent displacement observed in the field from repeated coring (80 cm and 16 cm at M1 and M5, respectively) must be attributed to other factors, of which spatial heterogeneity in gas transport rate appears to be the most likely.
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