Importance of biogeomorphic and spatial properties in assessing a tidal salt marsh vulnerability to sea-level rise

Estuaries and Coasts
By: , and 



We evaluated the biogeomorphic processes of a large (309 ha) tidal salt marsh and examined factors that influence its ability to keep pace with relative sea-level rise (SLR). Detailed elevation data from 1995 and 2008 were compared with digital elevation models (DEMs) to assess marsh surface elevation change during this time. Overall, 37 % (113 ha) of the marsh increased in elevation at a rate that exceeded SLR, whereas 63 % (196 ha) of the area did not keep pace with SLR. Of the total area, 55 % (169 ha) subsided during the study period, but subsidence varied spatially across the marsh surface. To determine which biogeomorphic and spatial factors contributed to measured elevation change, we collected soil cores and determined percent and origin of organic matter (OM), particle size, bulk density (BD), and distance to nearest bay edge, levee, and channel. We then used Akaike Information Criterion (AICc) model selection to assess those variables most important to determine measured elevation change. Soil stable isotope compositions were evaluated to assess the source of the OM. The samples had limited percent OM by weight (<5.5 %), with mean bulk densities of 0.58 g cm-3, indicating that the soils had high mineral content with a relatively low proportion of pore space. The most parsimonious model with the highest AICc weight (0.53) included distance from bay's edge (i.e., lower intertidal) and distance from levee (i.e., upper intertidal). Close proximity to sediment source was the greatest factor in determining whether an area increased in elevation, whereas areas near landward levees experienced subsidence. Our study indicated that the ability of a marsh to keep pace with SLR varied across the surface, and assessing changes in elevation over time provides an alternative method to long-term accretion monitoring. SLR models that do not consider spatial variability of biogeomorphic and accretion processes may not correctly forecast marsh drowning rates, which may be especially true in modified and urbanized estuaries. In light of SLR, improving our understanding of elevation change in these dynamic marsh systems will play a crucial role in forecasting potential impacts to their sustainability and the survival of these ecosystems.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Importance of biogeomorphic and spatial properties in assessing a tidal salt marsh vulnerability to sea-level rise
Series title Estuaries and Coasts
DOI 10.1007/s12237-013-9725-x
Volume 37
Issue 4
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Estuarine Research Federation
Publisher location Port Republic, MD
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 11 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Estuaries and Coasts
First page 941
Last page 951
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