Density-induced water circulations in atoll coral reefs: A numerical study

Leclerc, A. -M., P. Jean-Baptiste, D. Texier, D. Broc

Limnol. Oceanogr., 44(5), 1999, 1268-1281 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.1999.44.5.1268

ABSTRACT: Groundwater flow in an idealized atoll platform is simulated with CASTEM 2000, a computer code developed at the CEA (Commissariat a` l’Energie Atomique). Darcy’s law and a coupled solute transport equation (diffusion-dispersion-convection) is solved by the mixed-hybrid finite element method. Inward and upward circulations of oceanic water are shown to occur. These steady state circulations result from temperature and, to a lesser extent, salinity gradients. Inclusion of a karstified dolomitic horizon, observed at the base of the carbonate structure of certain atolls, is necessary to account for the negative vertical temperature gradient indicated by field data. The position of the platform in relation to the oceanic temperature and salinity distributions exerts a significant control on the interstitial hydraulic regime. The effect of a secondary karstic layer closer to sea surface is also modeled. In this case, calculations show that the near-surface carbonate edifice is deprived of a significant portion of the flow. Finally, an upper limit on the possible flow rate through the platform is calculated. This upper estimate is shown to be independent of the possible uncertainties on the hydraulic conductivity of the system. Corresponding upper limits on the nutrient fluxes of PO and NO are evaluated. A comparison with current import and export data for the surface ecosystem indicates that in every case, nutrient fluxes hardly reach a few percent of the exports. Therefore, the deep oceanic nutrient pool brought to the surface by thermally driven interstitial circulation is only a minor nutrient source for the reef ecosystem.

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