Scales of interactions between physical processes, primary producers and nutrients in aquatic ecosystems

Ingrid Hillmer Kiekebusch

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    271 Downloads (Pure)


    [Truncated abstract] Estimating internal biogeochemical fluxes is essential to the understanding of the dynamic of aquatic ecosystems. Different ecological approaches have been used to gain insight into the internal cycling, but success has been limited. A critical point is the identification of the characteristic scales of patterns and the underlying processes affecting the behaviour of biological and chemical species. Failing to capture these scales leads to misinterpretation of field and numerical data. In this study, key aspects in the design of ecological surveys are identified to ensure that the internal biogeochemical processes are well represented. In the first part of this thesis, a 1D reaction-diffusion-advection equation is used to investigate the formation of patterns and relevant time and spatial scales. This is used to define an approach for the determination of a critical domain size that allows differentiation of the role of local and internal cycling from advective fluxes across the open boundaries in a shallow coastal ecosystem. By using a 3D numerical model, in conjunction with an extensive field data set, it is shown that domain sizes must be larger than this critical value in order to capture the patterns generated within the system. For smaller domains, transport processes control the evolution of the system across the boundaries misleading the interpretation of the internal ecological dynamics. The study of the influence of boundary fluxes on ecological patchiness was motivated by the need to define the size of the domain necessary for the assessment of the impact of a sewage outflow on a coastal regime. The quantification of biogeochemical processes has proven to be difficult to achieve especially under conditions of high spatial and temporal hydrodynamic and biogeochemical variability. In the second part of this thesis, a Lagrangian experimental design is employed to estimate biogeochemical rate coefficients in situ. A set of four drogues and a cross-transect sampling design is used to capture the patchy distribution of phytoplankton and nutrient species, and high transport and mixing rates. ... Total chlorophyll from both models shows similar behavior when the variability in the 3D model, expressed as Chlamax/Chlamin, is low. When Chlamax/Chlamin is high, the difference between the biomass predicted by the two models reaches 30% due to the generation of localised patches. Comparison of the 1D and 3D results highlights the need of using models that are able to resolve the spatial complexity to some extent, as the use of averaged properties may produce misleading results. This is especially important in the presence of patches with differential physiological and biogeochemical characteristics, and nonlinear processes, in which case biomass average is not necessarily linearly related to the averaged environment.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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