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Research Identifies Major Sediment Transport Process in Shallow Waters
This story entered on 18th Jan, 2005 10:48:56 AM PST

Recent NURP-supported research, published in Science, suggests that Langmuir supercells are an important mechanism for major sediment resuspension events on the extensive shallow shelves off the eastern U.S. coast. A Langmuir cell is a circular current oriented parallel with wind direction that forms quickly as a result of wind and evaporative cooling at the water's surface. Langmuir supercells are Langmuir circulations that, during extended storms, achieve vertical scales equal to the full depth of the water column.

Because resuspension moves sediments out of low speed, near-bottom flow and into stronger interior flows, supercell events are associated with major sediment transport in shallow environments. Excessive amounts of sediments can potentially smother and kill coral tissue and reduce light levels and food supplied to the coral by symbiotic algae. Research results can be applied towards better differentiating sedimentation resulting from anthropogenic versus natural causes.

Research data was collected off the New Jersey shore with a cabled seafloor node, part of the Long-term Ecosystem Observatory (LEO-15) operated by NURP's Undersea Research Center at Rutgers University. The supercells were observed first near the sea surface and only progressively extended to the bottom, indicating that they were not generated by normal bottom boundary layer processes. Six months of data revealed that major sediment resuspension occurred only during supercell episodes, which lasted from 9 to 42 hours.
A. Gargett, J. Wells, A. E. Tejada-Martinez, C.E. Grosch (2004). Langmuir Supercells: A Mechanism for Sediment Resuspension and Transport in Shallow Seas. Science. Vol 306, Issue 5703, December 10, 2004, pp. 1925-1928.

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Updated: August 26, 2005