, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 307-316

Interstitial flow through preferential flow paths in the hyporheic zone of the Oberer Seebach, Austria

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Abstract.

We investigated interstitial flow velocities in the Oberer Seebach, Austria, with NaCl tracer injections at a sediment depth of 30 cm to estimate the hydraulic conditions experienced by invertebrates inhabiting the hyporheic zone. Flow velocity measured with tracers is taken as travel time of the water along a straight line between injection and sampling points, although the water flows around sediment particles, and thus travels a somewhat longer distance. From sections of stream sediment in which the interstitial spaces were replaced by concrete, we estimated that this difference amounts, on average, to 27% and used this factor to correct the results of our velocity measurements. Corrected interstitial water velocities ranged from 0.01 to 1.32 cm s–1 and were independent of surface discharge. We also studied spatial flow patterns in the bed sediments with long-term tracer injections. The three-dimensional distribution of tracer concentrations 24 hours after the start of the injection indicated that interstitial water preferentially flows in a complex network of areas of high hydraulic connectivity. Reynolds numbers for flow in the hyporheic pore space ranged from 0.1 to 489, implying that the flow environment varies from laminar up to the zone of transition to turbulent flow. Therefore, invertebrates may have a size-related active choice of areas where either friction drag or pressure drag predominates. The consequence of flow patterns, such as those observed in our study, is that small-scale variability of hydraulic conditions may be an important determinant of the patchy invertebrate distribution in bed sediments.

Received: 25 April 2001; revised manuscript accepted: 14 June 2002