Interaction between wind-induced seiches and convective cooling governs algal distribution in a canyon-shaped reservoir


Rafael Marcé, Fluvial Dynamics and Hydraulic Engineering (FLUMEN), Departament d'Ecologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Diagonal 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain. E-mail:


1. Wind is considered the dominant factor controlling phytoplankton distribution in lentic environments. In canyon-shaped reservoirs, wind tends to blow along the main axis generating internal seiches and advective water movements that jointly with biological features of algae can produce a heterogeneous phytoplankton distribution. Turbulence generated by wind stress and convection will also affect the vertical distribution of algae, depending on their sinking properties.

2. We investigated the vertical and horizontal distribution of phytoplankton during the stratification period in Sau Reservoir (NE Spain). Sites along the main reservoir axis were sampled every 4 h for 3 days, and profiles of chlorophyll-a and temperature were made using a fluorescent FluoroProbe, which can discriminate among the main algal groups. Convective and wind shear velocity scales, and energy dissipation were calculated from meteorological data, and simulation experiments were performed to describe non-measured processes, like vertical advection and sinking velocity of phytoplankton.

3. Wind direction changed from day to night, producing a diel thermocline oscillation and an internal seiche. Energy dissipation was moderate during the night, and mainly attributed to convective cooling. During the day the energy dissipation was entirely attributed to wind shear, but values indicated low turbulence intensity.

4. The epilimnetic algal community was mainly composed of diatoms and chlorophytes. Chlorophytes showed a homogeneous distribution on the horizontal and vertical planes. Diatom horizontal pattern was also homogeneous, because the horizontal advective velocities generated by wind forcing were not high enough to develop phytoplankton gradients along the reservoir.

5. Diatom vertical distribution was heterogeneous in space and time. Different processes dominated in different regions of the reservoir, due to the interaction between seiching and the daily cycle of convective-mediated turbulence. As the meteorological forcing followed a clear daily pattern, we found very different diatom sedimentation dynamics between day and night. Remarkably, these dynamics were asynchronous in the extremes of the seiche, implying that under the same meteorological forcing a diatom population can show contrasting sedimentation dynamics at small spatial scales (approximately 103 m). This finding should be taken into account when interpreting paleolimnological records from different locations in a lake.

6. Vertical distribution of non-motile algae is a complex process including turbulence, vertical and horizontal advection, variations in the depth of the mixing layer and the intrinsic sinking properties of the organisms. Thus, simplistic interpretations considering only one of these factors should be regarded with caution. The results of this work also suggest that diatoms can persist in stratified water because of a synergistic effect between seiching and convective turbulence.