Articles | Volume 13, issue 1
Research article
15 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jan 2016

Parameterization of biogeochemical sediment–water fluxes using in situ measurements and a diagenetic model

A. Laurent, K. Fennel, R. Wilson, J. Lehrter, and R. Devereux

Abstract. Diagenetic processes are important drivers of water column biogeochemistry in coastal areas. For example, sediment oxygen consumption can be a significant contributor to oxygen depletion in hypoxic systems, and sediment–water nutrient fluxes support primary productivity in the overlying water column. Moreover, nonlinearities develop between bottom water conditions and sediment–water fluxes due to loss of oxygen-dependent processes in the sediment as oxygen becomes depleted in bottom waters. Yet, sediment–water fluxes of chemical species are often parameterized crudely in coupled physical–biogeochemical models, using simple linear parameterizations that are only poorly constrained by observations. Diagenetic models that represent sediment biogeochemistry are available, but rarely are coupled to water column biogeochemical models because they are computationally expensive. Here, we apply a method that efficiently parameterizes sediment–water fluxes of oxygen, nitrate and ammonium by combining in situ measurements, a diagenetic model and a parameter optimization method. As a proof of concept, we apply this method to the Louisiana Shelf where high primary production, stimulated by excessive nutrient loads from the Mississippi–Atchafalaya River system, promotes the development of hypoxic bottom waters in summer. The parameterized sediment–water fluxes represent nonlinear feedbacks between water column and sediment processes at low bottom water oxygen concentrations, which may persist for long periods (weeks to months) in hypoxic systems such as the Louisiana Shelf. This method can be applied to other systems and is particularly relevant for shallow coastal and estuarine waters where the interaction between sediment and water column is strong and hypoxia is prone to occur due to land-based nutrient loads.

Short summary
In low oxygen environments, the lack of oxygen influences sediment biogeochemistry and in turn sediment-water fluxes. These nonlinear interactions are often missing from biogeochemical circulation models because sediment models are computationally expensive. A method for parameterizing realistic sediment-water fluxes is presented and applied to the Mississippi River Dead Zone where high primary production, stimulated by excess nutrient loads, promotes low bottom water conditions in summer.
Final-revised paper