Rapid physical and biological particle mixing on an intertidal sandflat
Sediment mixing processes were investigated using inert tracer experiments, benthic macrofaunal community analysis, and surveys of ray feeding pits to quantify the relative rates and controls of physical and biological reworking on Debidue Flat, an intertidal sandflat in South Carolina. Sediment reworking on Debidue Flat was rapid, with both advective and biodiffusive mixing operating over different vertical spatial scales. Physical reworking by tidal currents dominated initial transport of the tracer in the top 5-10 cm on timescales of ~30 days. Although the exact mechanism of tracer transport is unclear, it is most likely due to active fluidization of surface sediments during stages of the tide followed by a density-driven settling of tracer resulting in a steady downward transport to the depth of bedform reworking. Biodiffusive mixing was evident throughout the sampled interval (~30 cm) and dominated reworking at depths greater than 10 cm. Estimated biodiffusive mixing coefficients (Db ) were high all year (0.15-0.28 cm2d-1), and were comparable to values reported for coastal bioturbated muds. The haustoriid amphipod Pseudohaustorius caroliniensis was most likely responsible for tracer dispersal in the 10 -30 cm interval based on its distribution, abundance, size, and observed burrow structures. Ray pit excavation and infilling were seasonal disturbances that contributed ~12-22% to spatially averaged advective transport rates but were locally intense and capable alone of turning over the entire upper ~15 cm of the flat in ~100 -1000 d. We propose that the mixing processes on Debidue Flat promote an unconstricted, open sediment matrix that maintains the high permeability required for the rapid porewater exchange to 25 cm noted for this system. Thus, in addition to redistributing organic substrates, physical and biological particle mixing play important roles in controlling permeability of flat deposits and quantification of these processes is important to understand controls on permeability and biogeochemical cycling of solutes in sandy systems.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: January 1, 2004
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