The interaction of tidal advection, diffusion and mussel filtration in a tidal channel

John H. Simpson, Barbara Berx, Joanna Gascoigne, Camille Saurel

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Time series measurements of flow and pigment concentrations (Chl) in the Menai Strait have revealed that the strong residual flow in a tidal channel (∼500 m3 s−1) transports phytoplankton from the open sea into the channel where much of it is consumed by suspension feeders, mainly in commercial beds of Mytilus edulis. The progressive depletion of phytoplankton along the channel results in a strong horizontal gradient of plankton and hence Chl. Tidal displacement of this gradient causes large (±50% of mean) oscillations of Chl in the vicinity of the mussel beds. Vertical mixing by the strong tidal flows is sufficiently vigorous for most of the tidal cycle to ensure that downward diffusion can resupply the near-bed layer although there are indications of some transient depletion around slack water.This paradigm of the interaction of advection, diffusion and filtration determining the distribution of plankton and its supply to mussels has been encapsulated in a series of simple models forced only by boundary values. In the first, a 1-D model of tidal flow in the channel reproduces the principal features of the observed currents including the unusually large spatial change in phase of the currents and the variation of the residual transport with tidal range. The flow field from this physical model is used to drive a second model based on the advection diffusion equation for Chl with a source at the Irish Sea boundary and a sink over the mussel bed. This model illustrates the formation of a strong Chl gradient along the channel and simulates the amplitude and phase of the M2 oscillations of Chl and the development of the M4 variation apparent in the observations. This second model has been extended to 2-D over the mussel beds to allow investigation of the effects of water column mixing. The model indicates that only for a short period (∼30 min), close to slack water, is mixing sufficiently reduced to permit the development of a depletion boundary layer and then only within ∼1 m from the bottom, a result which is consistent with the observations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Marine Systems
Issue number3-4
Pages (from-to)556-568
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Mussel nutrition
  • Concentration boundary layer
  • Mytilus edulis
  • Menai Strait
  • Residual flow


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