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Spectral wave dissipation by submerged aquatic vegetation in a back-barrier estuary

January 25, 2017

Submerged aquatic vegetation is generally thought to attenuate waves, but this interaction remains poorly characterized in shallow-water field settings with locally generated wind waves. Better quantification of wave–vegetation interaction can provide insight to morphodynamic changes in a variety of environments and also is relevant to the planning of nature-based coastal protection measures. Toward that end, an instrumented transect was deployed across a Zostera marina (common eelgrass) meadow in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland/Virginia, U.S.A., to characterize wind-wave transformation within the vegetated region. Field observations revealed wave-height reduction, wave-period transformation, and wave-energy dissipation with distance into the meadow, and the data informed and calibrated a spectral wave model of the study area. The field observations and model results agreed well when local wind forcing and vegetation-induced drag were included in the model, either explicitly as rigid vegetation elements or implicitly as large bed-roughness values. Mean modeled parameters were similar for both the explicit and implicit approaches, but the spectral performance of the explicit approach was poor compared to the implicit approach. The explicit approach over-predicted low-frequency energy within the meadow because the vegetation scheme determines dissipation using mean wavenumber and frequency, in contrast to the bed-friction formulations, which dissipate energy in a variable fashion across frequency bands. Regardless of the vegetation scheme used, vegetation was the most important component of wave dissipation within much of the study area. These results help to quantify the influence of submerged aquatic vegetation on wave dynamics in future model parameterizations, field efforts, and coastal-protection measures.