Measurements of tidal-current boundary-layer flow over an experimental 2-m by 2-m patch of pinnid bivalves (Atrina zelandica) in a northern New Zealand estuary are presented. Previous work demonstrated a link between "mesoscale" (order 100 m) patchiness of the benthic biota and time-averaged boundary-layer dynamics. The aim in this new experiment was to describe the three-dimensional structure of turbulence at the patch scale (order I m). Flow over three densities of Atrina was investigated: 340 individuals per 4 m(2), 50 individuals per 4 m(2) and zero individuals. An internal boundary layer (IBL) grows downstream from the leading edge of the patch at the base of the ambient boundary layer. One meter in from the leading edge, the top of the IBL was similar to12 cm above the bed for the high-density patch and similar to6 cm for the low-density patch. Flow in the IBL was three-dimensional in that vertical and transverse mean velocities were nonzero, secondary Reynolds stresses were nonzero and comparable with the primary stress, and velocity spectra deviated from scaling relationships for two-dimensional flow. Thus, the observed IBL was still in its infancy, i.e., it consisted of a roughness sublayer only as the distance from the leading edge of the patch was not enough for development of a second, overlying logarithmic layer. In summary, the IBL that envelops the Atrina patch is a region of lower mean longitudinal velocities but more energetic turbulence relative to the ambient boundary layer. The former translates into shelter, which some organisms might take advantage of, and the latter translates into increased vertical exchange across the top of the IBL, which might enhance fluxes of nutrients, colonists and suspended sediments, and might have implications for deposition and resuspension of organically rich biodeposits. The results extend our knowledge of turbulence over patches of suspension feeders at the 1-m scale and therefore provide information needed to improve depiction of flow in models of suspension-feeder-flow interactions.
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