Buoyancy-driven flow in a peat moss layer as a mechanism for solute transport

C. Rappoldt, G.J.M. Pieters, E.B. Adema, G.J. Baaijens, A.P. Grootjans, C.J. Duijn, van

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Transport of nutrients, CO2, methane, and oxygen plays an important ecological role at the surface of wetland ecosystems. A possibly important transport mechanism in a water-saturated peat moss layer (usually Sphagnum cuspidatum) is nocturnal buoyancy flow, the downward flow of relatively cold surface water, and the upward flow of warm water induced by nocturnal cooling. Mathematical stability analysis showed that buoyancy flow occurs in a cooling porous layer if the system's Rayleigh number (Ra) exceeds 25. For a temperature difference of 10 K between day and night, a typical Ra value for a peat moss layer is 80, which leads to quickly developing buoyancy cells. Numerical simulation demonstrated that fluid flow leads to a considerable mixing of water. Temperature measurements in a cylindrical peat sample of 50-cm height and 35-cm diameter were in agreement with the theoretical results. The nocturnal flow and the associated mixing of the water represent a mechanism for solute transport in water-saturated parts of peat land and in other types of terrestrializing vegetation. This mechanism may be particularly important in continental wetlands, where Ra values in summer are often much larger than the threshold for fluid flow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14937-14942
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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