Plankton accumulation and transport in propagating nonlinear internal fronts
Accumulation and transport of plankton in fronts propagating across-shore is a process of considerable ecological importance for many inhabitants of the littoral zone, since it links the offshore larval pool with the juvenile and adult inshore habitat. Several field studies have shown that larval plankton accumulates in fronts, but have failed to give a conclusive proof that effective Lagrangian transport takes place. A few process-oriented numerical studies have lent support to the idea, but the scope of their results is limited by the two-dimensional nature of the flows considered and by the simple model used to account for the behavior of plankton. In this paper, we relax both constraints. We solve the three-dimensional Navier-Stokes equation to compute the time dependent velocity field, and we use an empirically based model for the behavior of plankton. Our results show that accumulation and transport is possible, even for larvae characterized by sustained swimming speeds that are small compared with the speed of propagation of the front. We introduce a simple model to characterize the accumulation along the front, which includes both entrainment and detrainment. The model accurately represents accumulation calculated from the numerical runs, and provide a simple tool to estimate transport under a variety of circumstances. We also investigate the spatial distribution of plankton along and across the front and show that it is very patchy and dependent on the swimming speed of plankton, with important implications for interpreting results from field experiments.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: January 1, 2007
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