A model of microbial activity in lake sediments in response to periodic water-column mixing

Water Res. 2003 Jul;37(12):2833-46. doi: 10.1016/S0043-1354(03)00110-6.


Under stagnant conditions, the mass transport of a soluble substrate from a lake's water column to the sediment/water interface is limited by molecular diffusion. Stagnant conditions coupled with a continuing sediment biological demand create a substrate depletion zone above the sediment/water interface. The frequency at which the substrate depletion zone is destroyed by internal seiches and other intermittent flow phenomena influences the time-averaged substrate concentration at the sediment/water interface. A more frequent mixing results in a greater time-averaged interface concentration and consequently affects the amount of microbial biomass that can be supported in the lake sediments and the flux of the substrate into the sediment. A one-dimensional, two-substrate model is used to examine the impact of mixing frequency on the activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in lake sediments. In the model, sulfate is supplied from the water column, while acetate is generated within the sediments. Mass transport to and within the sediments is by molecular diffusion except for instantaneous mixing events. Between mixing events, sulfate concentration gradients form above the sediment/water interface in the diffusive boundary layer. Sulfate depletion zones can be centimeters thick. When typical biological rate and diffusion coefficients for sulfate and acetate are used as inputs, the model indicates that a more frequent water-column mixing results in greater SRB concentrations. For an assumed bulk water-column sulfate concentration of 4.8 mg x l(-1), the sediment SRB concentrations for the modeled hourly, 6-hourly, daily, and weekly mixing frequencies were 175, 136, 91, and 30 mg x m(-2), respectively. The model also predicts higher time-averaged sulfate flux rates at more frequent water-column mixing. The time-averaged sulfate flux rates for the hourly, 6-hourly, daily, and weekly mixing frequencies were 1.26, 1.13, 0.78, and 0.30 mg x m(-2)h(-1), respectively. Thus, mixing frequency can significantly impact microbial activity in lake sediments.

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Periodicity
  • Solubility
  • Sulfates / metabolism
  • Sulfur-Reducing Bacteria / physiology*
  • Water Movements*


  • Sulfates