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Title: Oceanic bottom mixed layer in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone: potential influence on deep-seabed mining plume dispersal

The oceanic bottom mixed layer (BML) is a well mixed, weakly stratified, turbulent boundary layer. Adjacent to the seabed, the BML is of intrinsic importance for studying ocean mixing, energy dissipation, particle cycling and sediment-water interactions. While deep-seabed mining of polymetallic nodules is anticipated to commence in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) of the northeastern tropical Pacific Ocean, knowledge gaps regarding the form of the BML and its potentially key influence on the dispersal of sediment plumes generated by deep-seabed mining activities are yet to be addressed. Here, we report recent field observations from the German mining licence area in the CCZ that characterise the structure and variability of the BML locally. Quasi-uniform profiles of potential temperature extending from the seafloor reveal the presence of a spatially and temporally variable BML with an average local thickness of approximately 250 m. Deep horizontal currents in the region have a mean speed of 3.5 cm s$$^{-1}$$-1and a maximum speed of 12 cm s$$^{-1}$$-1at 18.63 ms above bottom over an 11 month record. The near-bottom currents initially have a net southeastward flow, followed by westward and southward flows with the development of complex, anticyclonic flow patterns. Theoretical predictions and historical data show broad consistency with mean BML thickness but cannot explain the observed heterogeneity of local BML thickness. We postulate that deep pressure anomalies induced by passing surface mesoscale eddies and abyssal thermal fronts could affect BML thickness, in addition to local topographic effects. A simplified transport model is then used to study the influence of the BML on the interplay between turbulent diffusion and sediment settling in the transport of deep-seabed mining induced sediment plumes. Over a range of realistic parameter values, the effects of BML on plume evolution can vary significantly, highlighting that resolving the BML will be a crucial step for accurate numerical modelling of plume dispersal.

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Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Environmental Fluid Mechanics
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Environmental Fluid Mechanics
Page Range / eLocation ID:
579 to 602
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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