Heat transport dynamics at a sandy intertidal zone

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Befus, KM, Cardenas, MB, Erler, DV, Santos, IR & Eyre, BD 2013, 'Heat transport dynamics at a sandy intertidal zone', Water Resource Research, vol. 49, no. 6, pp. 3770-3786.

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Intertidal zones are spatially complex and temporally dynamic environments. Coastal groundwater discharge, including submarine groundwater discharge, may provide stabilizing conditions for intertidal zone permeable sediments. In this study, we integrated detailed time series temperature observations, porewater pressure measurements, and two-dimensional electrical resistivity tomography profiles to understand the coupled hydraulic-thermal regime of a tropical sandy intertidal zone in a fringing coral reef lagoon (Rarotonga, Cook Islands). We found three heating patterns across the 15 m study transect over tidal and diel periods: (1) a highly variable thermal regime dominated by swash infiltration and changes in saturation state in the upper foreshore with net heat import into the sediment, (2) a groundwater-supported underground stable, cool region just seaward of the intertidal slope break also importing heat into the subsurface, and (3) a zone of seawater recirculation that sustained consistently warm subsurface temperatures that exported heat across the sediment-water interface. Simple calculations suggested thermal conduction as the main heat transport mechanism for the shallow intertidal sediment, but deeper and/or multi-dimensional groundwater flow was required to explain temperature patterns beyond 20 cm depth. Temperature differences between the distinct hydrodynamic zones of the foreshore site resulted in significant thermal gradients that persisted beyond tidal and diel periods. The thermal buffering of intertidal zones by coastal groundwater systems, both at surface seeps and in the shallow subsurface, can be responsible for thermal refugia for some coastal organisms and hotspots for biogeochemical reactions.

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