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Development of a submerged aquatic vegetation growth model in the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere–Wave–Sediment Transport (COAWST v3.4) model

November 2, 2020

The coupled biophysical interactions between submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), hydrodynamics (currents and waves), sediment dynamics, and nutrient cycling have long been of interest in estuarine environments. Recent observational studies have addressed feedbacks between SAV meadows and their role in modifying current velocity, sedimentation, and nutrient cycling. To represent these dynamic processes in a numerical model, the presence of SAV and its effect on hydrodynamics (currents and waves) and sediment dynamics was incorporated into the open-source Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere–Wave–Sediment Transport (COAWST) model. In this study, we extend the COAWST modeling framework to account for dynamic changes of SAV and associated epiphyte biomass. Modeled SAV biomass is represented as a function of temperature, light, and nutrient availability. The modeled SAV community exchanges nutrients, detritus, dissolved inorganic carbon, and dissolved oxygen with the water-column biogeochemistry model. The dynamic simulation of SAV biomass allows the plants to both respond to and cause changes in the water column and sediment bed properties, hydrodynamics, and sediment transport (i.e., a two-way feedback). We demonstrate the behavior of these modeled processes through application to an idealized domain and then apply the model to a eutrophic harbor where SAV dieback is a result of anthropogenic nitrate loading and eutrophication. These cases demonstrate an advance in the deterministic modeling of coupled biophysical processes and will further our understanding of future ecosystem change.