Computationally characterizing the diffusive boundary layer in lakes and reservoirs

Xiamei Man, Chengwang Lei, Kevin A. Bierlein, Lee D. Bryant, Abigail S. Lewis, Cayelan C. Carey, John C. Little

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Hypolimnetic hypoxia has become increasingly prevalent in stratified water bodies in recent decades due to climate change. One primary sink of dissolved oxygen (DO) is sediment oxygen uptake (JO2). On the water side of the sediment–water interface (SWI), JO2 is controlled by a diffusive boundary layer (DBL), a millimeter-scale layer where molecular diffusion is the primary transport mechanism. In previous studies, the DBL was determined by visual inspection, which is subjective and time-consuming. 

Material and methods: In this study, a computational procedure is proposed to determine the SWI and DBL objectively and automatically. The procedure was evaluated for more than 300 DO profiles in the sediment of three eutrophic water bodies spanning gradients of depth and surface area. Synthetic DO profiles were modeled based on sediment characteristics estimated by laboratory experiments. The procedure was further verified adopting the synthetic profiles. 

Results and discussion: The procedure, which was evaluated for both measured and synthetic DO profiles, determined the SWI and DBL well for both steady and non-steady state DO profiles. A negative relationship between DBL thickness and aeration rates was observed, which agrees with existing literatures. 

Conclusions: The procedure is recommended for future studies involving characterizing DBL to improve efficiency and consistency.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Early online date16 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Mar 2024

Data Availability Statement

Code and data used for this study is available through


  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Hypolimnetic oxygenation
  • Hypoxia
  • Microprofiles
  • Sediment kinetics
  • Sediment–water interface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Stratigraphy


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