Skip to main content
Log in

Effects of small-scale turbulence on microalgae

  • Published:
Journal of Applied Phycology Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Turbulence flows are characterized by their viscous dissipation rates ɛ and the kinematic viscosity of the fluid ν, but the effects of turbulence on organisms such as microalgae smaller than the Kolmogorov inertial-viscous length scale LK ≡ (ν3/ε)/14 depend on the stress τ ≡ µγ, where µ = ϱν is the dynamic viscosity, ρ is the density, and the rate-of-strain γ ≡ (ε/ν)/12. While various workers have shown qualitatively that turbulence affects several microalgal physiological processes, these effects have not been quantified in terms of ε, τ or γ. Various microalgal groups seem to have different sensitivities to inhibition by turbulence. The relative sensitivities aregreen algae < blue-green algae < diatoms < dinoflagellates with dinoflagellates being most sensitive. We have quantified the growth sensitivity to turbulence for a red tide dinoflagellate,Gonyaulax polyedra Stein, by imposing constant γ values on cultures placed within a gap between rotating outer and fixed inner concentric cylinders. Threshold turbulence values for growth inhibition are consistent with turbulence parameters near the sea surface with light winds, suggesting turbulence may be the reason that high winds inhibit red tides. For ɛ > 0.18 cm2s−3, τ > 0.04 dynes cm−2 (0.002 N M−2 or Pa), γ > 4.4 rad s−1, cell numbers and chlorophyll fluorescence declined, and cells lost their longitudinal flagella and the ability to swim forward. At lower ε, τ and γ values growth rates and cell morphology were the same as in unsheared control cultures. High turbulence may affect other algae, such asSpirulina, which are commonly mass cultured.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Allen WE (1938) ‘Red water’ along the west coast of US in 1938. Science 88: 55–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Allen WE (1946) Significance of ‘red water’ in the sea. Turtox News, Vol. 24, No. 2.

  • Fogg GE, Than-Tun (1960) Interrelations of photosynthesis and assimilation of elementary nitrogen in a blue-green alga. Proc. R. Soc. London B153: 111–127.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galleron C (1976) Synchronization of the marine dinoflagellateAmphidinium carterae in dense cultures. J. Phycol. 12: 69–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson CH (1968) Fine structure of scalar fields mixed by turbulence. I. Zero-gradient points and minimal gradient surfaces. Phys. Fluids 11 (11): 2305–2315.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson CH (1980) [see also 1990]. Turbulence. In: Lerner RG, Trigg GL (eds), Encyclopedia of Physics. Addison-Wesley Publ. Co., NY: 1072–1073.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gibson CH (1986) Internal waves, fossil turbulence, and composite ocean microstructure spectra. J. Fluid Mech. 168: 89–117.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laws EA, Terry KL, Wickman J, Challup MS (1983) A simple algal production system designed to utilize the flashing light effect. Biotechnol. & Bioengineer. 15: 2319–2335.

    Google Scholar 

  • Loebich AR III (1975) A seawater medium for dinoflagellates and the nutrition ofCachonina niei. J. Phycol. 11: 80–86.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pasiack WJ, Gavis J (1975) Transport limited nutrient uptake rates inDitylum brightwellii. Limnol. Oceanogr. 20: 605–617.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pollingher U, Zemel E (1981) In situ and experimental evidence of the influence of turbulence on cell division processes ofPeridinium cinctum formawestii (Lemm.) Lefèvre. Br. J. Phycol. 16: 281–287.

    Google Scholar 

  • Richmond A (1988)Spirulina. In: Borowitzka MA, Borowitzka L (eds), Micro-Algal Biotechnology. Cambridge U.P., N.Y.: 85–121.

    Google Scholar 

  • Richmond A, Vonshak A (1978)Spirulina culture in Israel. Arch. Hydrobiol. 11: 274–280.

    Google Scholar 

  • Savidge G (1981) Studies of the effects of small-scale turbulence on phytoplankton. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. U.K. 61: 477–488.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schöne H (1970) Untersuchungen zur ökologishen Bedeutung des Seegangs für das Plankton mit besonder Berucksichtigung mariner Kieselalgen. Int. Rev. ges. Hydrobiol. 55: 595–677.

    Google Scholar 

  • Siegelman HW, Kycia JH (1979) Large scale culture of dinoflagellate algae. In: Taylor DL, Seliger HH (eds), Toxic Dinoflagellate Blooms, Proc. Second Internat. Conf. on Toxic Dinoflagellates. Elsevier North Holland, NY: 115–120.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomas WH, Seibert DLR, Alden M, Neori A, Eldridge P (1984a) Yields, photosynthetic efficiencies and proximate composition of dense marine microalgal cultures. I. Introduction andPhaeodactylum tricornutum experiments. Biomass 5: 181–209.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomas WH, Seibert DLR, Alden M, Neori A, Eldridge P (1984b) Yields, photosynthetic efficiencies and proximate composition of dense marine microalgal cultures. II.Dunaliella primolecta andTetraselmis suecica experiments. Biomass 5: 211–225.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomas WH, Seibert DLR, Alden M, Neori A, Eldridge P (1984c) Yields, photosynthetic efficiencies and proximate composition of dense marine microalgal cultures. III.Isochrysis sp. andMonallantus salina experiments and comparative conclusions. Biomass 5: 299–316.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomas WH, Seibert DLR, Alden M, Eldridge P (1986) Cultural requirements, yields, and light utilization efficiencies of some desert saline microalgae. In: Barclay WR, McIntosh RP (eds), Algal Biomass Technologies, An Interdisciplinary Perspective. J. Cramer, Berlin, Nova Hedwigia 83: 60–69.

  • Tuttle RC, Loeblich AR III (1975) An optimal growth medium for the dinoflagellateCryptothecodinium cohnii. Phycologia 14: 1–8.

    Google Scholar 

  • White AW (1976) Growth inhibition caused by turbulence in the toxic marine dinoflagellateGonyaulax excavata. J. Fish. Res. Bd Canada 33: 2598–2602.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Presented at the XIIIth International Seaweed Symposium, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, August 1989. Contribution from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Thomas, W.H., Gibson, C.H. Effects of small-scale turbulence on microalgae. J Appl Phycol 2, 71–77 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key words