Coral Reefs

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 386–396 | Cite as

Mass-transfer-limited nitrate uptake on a coral reef flat, Warraber Island, Torres Strait, Australia

  • Mark E. BairdEmail author
  • Moninya Roughan
  • Robert W. Brander
  • Jason H. Middleton
  • Greg J. Nippard


Previous research has identified a relationship between the rate of dissipation of turbulent kinetic energy, ε , and the mass-transfer-limited rate of uptake by a surface, herein called the ε 1/4 law, and suggests this law may be applicable to nutrient uptake on coral reefs. To test this suggestion, nitrate uptake rate and gravitational potential energy loss have been measured for a section of Warraber Island reef flat, Torres Strait, northern Australia. The reef flat section is 3 km long, with a 3 m tidal range, and on the days measured, subject to 6 m s−1 tradewinds. The measured nitrate uptake coefficient, S , on two consecutive days during the rising tide was 1.23±0.28 and 1.42±0.52×10−4 m s−1. The measured loss of gravitational potential energy across the reef flat, ΔGPE , on the same rising tides over a 178 m section was 208±24 and 161±20 kg m−1 s−2. Assuming the ΔGPE is dissipated as turbulent kinetic energy in the water column, and using the ε 1/4 law, the mass-transfer-limited nitrate uptake coefficient, S MTL , on the two days was 1.57±0.03 and 1.45±0.04×10−4 m s−1. Nitrate uptake on Warraber Island reef flat is close to the mass-transfer limit, and is determined by oceanographic nitrate concentrations and energy climate.


Coral reefs Friction Nutrient uptake Hydrodynamics Torres Strait Great Barrier Reef 



The generous support of the School of Mathematics, UNSW through the University Research Support Program and School travel funds is gratefully acknowledged. The authors greatly appreciated the hospitality of the Warraber people, in particular Clara Tamu and Bogo Billy, and Bill and Bev Stephens. We would like to thank Douglas Jacobs of the Torres Strait Regional Council for coordinating the project with the Warraber Council, David Terhill at CSIRO Marine Research who generously undertook the nutrient analysis, and Jean Rueger, UNSW, for the loan of surveying equipment. We would also like to acknowledge the generous help with theoretical aspects provide by Cliff Hearn and Eric Schulz, and Marlin Atkinson for inspiring this work. MB was funded by an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, and RB by a UNSW Goldstar grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark E. Baird
    • 1
    Email author
  • Moninya Roughan
    • 2
  • Robert W. Brander
    • 3
  • Jason H. Middleton
    • 1
  • Greg J. Nippard
    • 1
  1. 1.School of MathematicsUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Scripps Institution of OceanographyUCSDLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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