Macrofaunal irrigation is an important process in nearshore sediments, facilitating greater exchange between sediments and seawater and imparting significant lateral heterogeneity to the porewater profiles of many constituents. Like many macrofaunal activities, irrigation is a transient behavior, i.e. tubes and burrows are flushed periodically, at frequencies that generally are species-specific. As a result, transient concentrations within the dwelling arise, potentially impacting gradients, fluxes and reaction rates in the vicinity of the dwelling. We investigated the impact of periodic burrow irrigation on the distribution of several diagenetically important porewater constituents. Laboratory experiments evaluated irrigation periodicity using artificially irrigated tubes embedded in nearshore organic-rich sediments, and microdistributions of oxygen and pH in laboratory experiments were measured with microelectrodes. To help interpret our results, we also constructed a simplified time and space-dependent transport-reaction model for oxygen, pH and sulfide in irrigated sediments. Laboratory results show substantial differences in the pH field of sediments surrounding an irrigated tube as a function of irrigation frequency. Higher pH values, indicative of an overlying water signature, were observed in the vicinity of the tube wall with increasing duration of irrigation. Conversely, oxygen concentrations did not vary significantly with the amount of irrigation, most likely a result of extremely high sediment oxygen demand. Model results are consistent with laboratory findings in predicting differences in the measured variables as a function of irrigation frequency. However, the nature and extent of the model-predicted differences are often at variance with the experimental data. Overall, experimental and modeling results both suggest irrigation periodicity can substantially influence porewater distributions and diagenetic processes in sediments. Future studies should examine the influence of irrigation periodicity on the types and rates of reactions, and the attendant biological features, in the environment encompassing the tube or burrow wall.
Marinelli, Roberta L., and Bernard P. Boudreau. 1996. "An experimental and modeling study of pH and related solutes in an irrigated anoxic coastal sediment." Journal of Marine Research 54, (5). https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/journal_of_marine_research/2205