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River plants may play major role in health of ocean coastal waters
Date:1/29/2008

ter flows into and through a plant canopy, and how long it remains within the canopycan be used to find the right balance between canopy and flow in a river.

Vegetation generates resistance to flow, so the velocity within a canopy is much less than the velocity above it. This spatial gradient of velocity, or shear, produces a coherent swirl of water motion, called a vortex. Using scaled physical models, Nepf and Ghisalberti described the dynamic nature of these vortices and developed predictive models for canopy flushing that fit available field observations. The team showed that vortices control the flushing of canopies by controlling the exchange of fluid between the canopy and overflowing water. Similar vortices also form at the edge of a vegetated channel, setting the exchange between the channel and the vegetation.

The structure and density of the canopy controls the extent to which flow is reduced in the canopy and also the water-renewal time, which ranges from minutes to hours for typical submerged canopies. These timescales are comparable to those measured in much-studied underground hyporheic zones, suggesting that channel vegetation could play a role similar to these zones in nutrient retention. In dense canopies, the larger vortices cannot penetrate the full canopy height. Water renewal in the lower canopy is controlled by much smaller turbulence generated by individual stems and branches.

We now understand more precisely how water moves through and around aquatic canopies, and know that the vortices control the water renewal and momentum exchange, said Nepf. Knowing the timescale over which water is renewed in a bed, and knowing the degree to which currents are reduced within the beds help researchers determine how the size and shape of a canopy will impact stream restoration.


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Contact: Denise Brehm
brehm@mit.edu
617-253-8069
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Source:Eurekalert

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