Effects of coral colony morphology on turbulent flow dynamics


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Local flow dynamics play a central role in physiological processes like respiration and nutrient uptake in coral reefs. Despite the importance of corals as hosts to a quarter of all marine life, and the pervasive threats facing corals, characterizing the hydrodynamics between the branches of scleractinian corals has remained a significant challenge. Here, we investigate the effects of colony branch density and surface structure on the local flow field using three-dimensional immersed boundary, large-eddy simulations for four different colony geometries under unidirectional oncoming flow conditions. The first two colonies were from thePocilloporagenus, one with a densely branched geometry, and one with a comparatively loosely branched geometry. The second pair of geometries were derived from a scan of a singleMontipora capitatacolony, one with the roughness elements called verrucae covering the surface intact, and one with the verrucae removed. For thePocilloporacorals, we found that the mean velocity profiles changed substantially in the center of the dense colony, becoming significantly reduced at middle heights where flow penetration was poor, while the mean velocity profiles in the loosely branched colony remained similar in character from the front to the back of the colony. For theMontiporacorals, somewhat counterintuitively, the colony without verrucae produced almost double the maximum Reynolds stress magnitude above the colony compared to the colony without verrucae. This implies that the smooth colony will have enhanced mass transport and higher bed shear stress and friction velocity values relative to the colony with verrucae.