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Hurricane-induced failure of low salinity wetlands.


ABSTRACT: During the 2005 hurricane season, the storm surge and wave field associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita eroded 527 km(2) of wetlands within the Louisiana coastal plain. Low salinity wetlands were preferentially eroded, while higher salinity wetlands remained robust and largely unchanged. Here we highlight geotechnical differences between the soil profiles of high and low salinity regimes, which are controlled by vegetation and result in differential erosion. In low salinity wetlands, a weak zone (shear strength 500-1450 Pa) was observed approximately 30 cm below the marsh surface, coinciding with the base of rooting. High salinity wetlands had no such zone (shear strengths > 4500 Pa) and contained deeper rooting. Storm waves during Hurricane Katrina produced shear stresses between 425-3600 Pa, sufficient to cause widespread erosion of the low salinity wetlands. Vegetation in low salinity marshes is subject to shallower rooting and is susceptible to erosion during large magnitude storms; these conditions may be exacerbated by low inorganic sediment content and high nutrient inputs. The dramatic difference in resiliency of fresh versus more saline marshes suggests that the introduction of freshwater to marshes as part of restoration efforts may therefore weaken existing wetlands rendering them vulnerable to hurricanes.

SUBMITTER: Howes NC 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC2922612 | BioStudies | 2010-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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