The fine grained carbonate mud sediments of central Florida Bay are resuspended quite easily. However, this disturbance is usually limited to the surficial (‘floc’) layer, as the underlying sediments appear to be stabilized by an hydrogelation involving the bulk organic matter. That gelation has occurred within these sediments is suggested from their physical behavior and an observed mathematical relationship between the percentages of organic carbon (Corg) and water. Specifically, when extruded from a core barrel, the sediment maintains its integrity and has the consistency of a fine spackling compound. However, upon homogenization, as with a stirring rod prior to sieving, these sediments break into two distinct phases, ½–⅔ milky water and ⅓–½ sediment grains, by volume. The relationship observed between Corg and water was modeled as both linear (% water = (0.0777) Corg + 0.2984, R2 = 0.8664) and logarithmic (% water = 0.2489 Ln Corg + 0.2842, R2 = 0.9455) functions. As this relationship tends to be asymptotic at higher Corg (>3.5%dry)/water values (>60%) and given an higher correlation, the relationship appears better modeled as a logarithmic function. Values of Corg from 1.2 to over 6.5%dry wt. and water contents from 30 to over 70%wt. were observed. The calculated intercept revealed that, without organic carbon (viz. hydrogel formation), these carbonates would likely contain only ∼30% water by weight (‘m’ from linear model).
This gelation is proposed to involve exopolymeric substances (EPS), likely polysaccharides, derived from diatoms and cyanobacteria of the microphytobenthos. A cyanobacterial-diatomaceous biofilm/mat underlain by purple sulfur bacteria was shown, by pigment based chemotaxonomy, to form the main components of the microphytobenthos. Additional water column detrital biomass, also mainly cyanobacteria and diatoms, is admixed with the living micro-phytobenthos in a flocculent/nephloid layer above the sediments prior to final incorporation into the gel-stabilized sediment column. Loss of seagrass cover appears to have allowed higher energy wave induced effects to reach the water-(nephloid)-sediment interface and increase overall turbidity in the bay.
The effects of these gelatinized organics upon sediment stability, pore water chemistry and dissolved species flux in/out of the sediments are discussed as areas for future research which takes this (hydro-) gelation phenomenon into account.