Regulation of benthic oxygen fluxes in permeable sediments of the coastal ocean


Large areas of the oceanic shelf are composed of sandy sediments through which reactive solutes are transported via porewater advection fueling active microbial communities. The advective oxygen transport in permeable sands of the North Sea was investigated under in situ conditions using a new benthic observatory to assess the dynamic interaction of hydrodynamics, sediment morphodynamics, and oxygen penetration depth. During 16 deployments, concurrent measurement of current velocity, sediment topography, and porewater oxygen concentration were carried out. In all cases the oxyclines were found at depths of 1–6 cm, correlating with the topography of stationary and migrating bedforms (ripples). Different conditions in terms of bottom water currents and bedform migration led to fluctuating oxygen penetration depths and, hence, highly variable redox conditions in up to 2.5 cm thick layers beneath the surface. Volumetric oxygen consumption rates of surface sediments were measured on board in flow-through reactors. Bedform migration was found to reduce consumption rates by up to , presumably caused by the washout of organic carbon that is otherwise trapped in the pore space of the sediment. Based on the observations we found oxygen penetration depths to be largely controlled by oxygen consumption rates, grain size, and current velocity. These controlling variables are summarized by an adapted Damköhler number which allows for prediction of oxygen penetretion depths based on a simple scaling law. By integrating the oxygen consumption rates over the oxygen penetration depth, oxygen fluxes of 8–34 mmol m−2 d−1 were estimated.
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