The impact of flexibility on flow, turbulence, and vertical mixing in coastal canopies
Limnology and Oceanography
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
School of Science / Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Physical modeling of canopy‐flow interactions has mostly employed rigid model vegetation, whereby the canopy geometry (i.e., its height and frontal area) is invariant and easily quantified. Here, we demonstrate that embedding realism in model vegetation, in the form of buoyancy and flexibility, can profoundly impact the structure of the flow and rates of vertical mixing in wave‐dominated conditions. A laboratory investigation was undertaken with two types of model canopy: (1) rigid canopies consisting of wooden dowels, and (2) flexible, buoyant model plants designed to mimic meadows of the seagrass Posidonia australis. To isolate the impact of flexibility, the maximum heights and frontal areas of the two types of canopy were matched. These canopies were subjected to oscillatory flows with a realistic range of wave heights and periods. Drag reduction caused by the reconfiguration of flexible canopies leads to a greatly diminished velocity attenuation in the canopy (by, on average, 65%). The reduced average height of flexible canopies shifts the canopy shear layer toward the bed, resulting in significantly enhanced levels of near‐bed turbulence. Finally, a decreased vertical diffusivity (by approximately 35%) was observed in the flexible model canopies, relative to the rigid analogues. Thus, while the use of dynamically scaled vegetation adds complexity to modeling efforts, it represents a step toward a more accurate quantitative understanding of flow and mixing in these environments.