Measurement and interpretation of solute concentration gradients in the benthic boundary layer

Moritz Holtappels, Marcel M.M. Kuypers, Michael Schlüter and Volker Brüchert

Limnol. Oceanogr. Methods 9:1-13 (2011) | DOI: 10.4319/lom.2010.9.1

ABSTRACT: The coastal ocean is characterized by high exchange rates of organic matter, oxygen, and nutrients between the sediment and the water column. The solutes that are exchanged between the sediment and the overlying water column are transported across the benthic boundary layer (BBL) by means of turbulent diffusion. Thus, solute concentration gradients in the BBL contain valuable information about the respective fluxes. In this study, we present the instrumentation and sampling strategies to measure oxygen and nutrient concentration gradients in the BBL. We provide the theoretical background and the calculation procedure to derive ratios of nutrient and oxygen fluxes from these concentration gradients. The noninvasive approach is illustrated at two sampling sites in the western Baltic Sea where nutrient and oxygen concentration gradients of up to 5 and 30 µM m–1, respectively, were measured. Nutrient and oxygen flux ratios were used to establish a nitrogen flux balance between sediment and water column indicating that 20% and 50% of the mineralized nitrogen left the sediment in form of N2 (station A and B, respectively). The results are supported by sediment incubation experiments of intact sediment cores, measuring denitrification rates, and oxygen uptake. The presented flux ratio approach is applicable without knowledge of turbulent diffusivities in the BBL and is, therefore, unaffected by non–steady-state current velocities and diffusivities.