Relative velocity of seagrass blades: Implications for wave attenuation in low-energy environments

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface








While the ability of subaquatic vegetation to attenuate wave energy is well recognized in general, there is a paucity of data from the field to describe the rate and mechanisms of wave decay, particularly with respect to the relative motion of the vegetation. The purpose of this study was to quantify the attenuation of incident wave height through a seagrass meadow and characterize the blade movement under oscillatory flow under the low-energy conditions characteristic of fetch-limited and sheltered environments. The horizontal motion of the seagrass blades and the velocity just above the seagrass canopy were measured using a digital video camera and an acoustic Doppler velicometer (ADV) respectively in order to refine the estimates of the drag coefficient based on the relative velocity. Significant wave heights (Hs) were observed to increase by ∼0.02 m (∼20%) through the first 5 m of the seagrass bed but subsequently decrease exponentially over the remainder of the bed. The exponential decay coefficient varied in response to the Reynolds number calculated using blade width (as the length scale) and the oscillatory velocity measured immediately above the canopy. The ability of the seagrass to attenuate wave energy decreases as incident wave heights increase and conditions become more turbulent. Estimates of the time-averaged canopy height and the calculated hydraulic roughness suggest that, as the oscillatory velocity increases, the seagrass becomes fully extended and leans in the direction of flow for a longer part of the wave cycle. The relationship between the drag coefficient and the Reynolds number further suggests that the vegetation is swaying (going with the flow) at low-energy conditions but becomes increasingly rigid as oscillatory velocities increase over the limited range of the conditions observed (200 < Re < 800). In addition to the changing behavior of the seagrass motion, the attenuation was not uniform with wave frequency, and waves at a secondary frequency of 0.38 Hz (2.6 s) appeared to be unaffected by the seagrass. Cospectral analysis between the oscillatory and blade velocity suggests that the seagrass was moving in phase with the current at the (lower) secondary frequency and out of phase at the (higher) peak frequency. In this respect, seagrass is not only an attenuator of wave energy but also serves as a low-pass filter; higher frequencies in the spectra tend to be more attenuated. Copyright 2009 by the American Geophysical Union.