Observations of spatial flow patterns at the coral colony scale on a shallow reef flat

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats


Although small-scale spatial flow variability can affect both larger-scale circulation patterns and biological processes on coral reefs, there are few direct measurements of spatial flow patterns across horizontal scales <100 m. Here flow patterns on a shallow reef flat were measured at scales from a single colony to several adjacent colonies using an array of acoustic Doppler velocimeters on a diver-operated traverse. We observed recirculation zones immediately behind colonies, reduced currents and elevated dissipation rates in turbulent wakes up to 2 colony diameters downstream and enhanced Reynolds stresses in shear layers around wake peripheries. Flow acceleration zones were observed above and between colonies. Coherent flow structures varied with incident flow speeds; recirculation zones were stronger and wakes were more turbulent in faster flows. Low-frequency (<0.03 Hz) flow variations, for which water excursions were large compared with the colony diameters (Keulegan-Carpenter number, KC >1), had similarspatial patterns to wakes, while higher-frequency variations (0.05-0.1 Hz, KC<1) had no observable spatial structure. On the reef flat, both drag and inertial forces exerted by coral colonies could have significant effects on flow, but within different frequency ranges; drag dominates for low-frequency flow variations and inertial forces dominate for higher frequency variations, including the wave band. Our scaling analyses suggest that spatial flow patterns at colony and patch scales could have important implications or both physical and biological processes at larger reef scales through their effects on forces exerted on the flow, turbulent mixing, and dispersion. © 2013. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.






Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Hench, JL, and JH Rosman (2013). Observations of spatial flow patterns at the coral colony scale on a shallow reef flat. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 118(3). pp. 1142–1156. 10.1002/jgrc.20105 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/10765.

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



James Hench

Associate Professor of Oceanography

Research in my lab focuses on fluid dynamics in the coastal ocean and its effects on transport processes. We use field measurements, computational models, and theoretical analyses to understand fundamental physical processes in these systems. We also work extensively on interdisciplinary problems that have a significant physical component to better understand the effects of water motion on the geochemistry, biology, and ecology of shallow marine systems. 

Much of our research is on coral reef hydrodynamics and our lab leads the Physical Oceanographic component of the Moorea Coral Reef LTER project 

Current projects include: 1) wave-driven circulation and exchange in coral reef, lagoon, and pass systems; 2) extreme events and their effects on coral reef systems; 3) understanding the effects of rough bottoms such as corals on circulation and scalar mixing; 4) the impact of stratification on vertical mixing in a highly stratified wind-driven estuary; 5) larval transport around a coral reef island; 6) sponge excurrents; and 7) the effects of wave forcing on corallivory. 

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.