Optimal hurricane overwash thickness for maximizing marsh resilience to sea level rise.
ABSTRACT: The interplay between storms and sea level rise, and between ecology and sediment transport governs the behavior of rapidly evolving coastal ecosystems such as marshes and barrier islands. Sediment deposition during hurricanes is thought to increase the resilience of salt marshes to sea level rise by increasing soil elevation and vegetation productivity. We use mesocosms to simulate burial of Spartina alterniflora during hurricane-induced overwash events of various thickness (0-60 cm), and find that adventitious root growth within the overwash sediment layer increases total biomass by up to 120%. In contrast to most previous work illustrating a simple positive relationship between burial depth and vegetation productivity, our work reveals an optimum burial depth (5-10 cm) beyond which burial leads to plant mortality. The optimum burial depth increases with flooding frequency, indicating that storm deposition ameliorates flooding stress, and that its impact on productivity will become more important under accelerated sea level rise. Our results suggest that frequent, low magnitude storm events associated with naturally migrating islands may increase the resilience of marshes to sea level rise, and in turn, slow island migration rates.We find that burial deeper than the optimum results in reduced growth or mortality of marsh vegetation, which suggests that future increases in overwash thickness associated with more intense storms and artificial heightening of dunes could lead to less resilient marshes.
Project description:Tidal marshes maintain elevation relative to sea level through accumulation of mineral and organic matter, yet this dynamic accumulation feedback mechanism has not been modeled widely in the context of accelerated sea-level rise. Uncertainties exist about tidal marsh resiliency to accelerated sea-level rise, reduced sediment supply, reduced plant productivity under increased inundation, and limited upland habitat for marsh migration. We examined marsh resiliency under these uncertainties using the Marsh Equilibrium Model, a mechanistic, elevation-based soil cohort model, using a rich data set of plant productivity and physical properties from sites across the estuarine salinity gradient. Four tidal marshes were chosen along this gradient: two islands and two with adjacent uplands. Varying century sea-level rise (52, 100, 165, 180 cm) and suspended sediment concentrations (100%, 50%, and 25% of current concentrations), we simulated marsh accretion across vegetated elevations for 100 years, applying the results to high spatial resolution digital elevation models to quantify potential changes in marsh distributions. At low rates of sea-level rise and mid-high sediment concentrations, all marshes maintained vegetated elevations indicative of mid/high marsh habitat. With century sea-level rise at 100 and 165 cm, marshes shifted to low marsh elevations; mid/high marsh elevations were found only in former uplands. At the highest century sea-level rise and lowest sediment concentrations, the island marshes became dominated by mudflat elevations. Under the same sediment concentrations, low salinity brackish marshes containing highly productive vegetation had slower elevation loss compared to more saline sites with lower productivity. A similar trend was documented when comparing against a marsh accretion model that did not model vegetation feedbacks. Elevation predictions using the Marsh Equilibrium Model highlight the importance of including vegetation responses to sea-level rise. These results also emphasize the importance of adjacent uplands for long-term marsh survival and incorporating such areas in conservation planning efforts.
Project description:Barrier island overwash occurs when the elevation of wave runup exceeds the dune crest and induces landward transport of sediment across a barrier island and deposition of a washover deposit. Washover deposition is generally attributed to major storms, is important for the maintenance of barrier island resilience to sea-level rise and is used to extend hurricane records beyond historical accounts by reconstructing the frequency and extent of washover deposits preserved in the sedimentary record. Here, we present a high-fidelity 3-year record of washover evolution and overwash at a transgressive barrier island site. During the first year after establishment, washover volume and area increased 1595% and 197%, respectively, from at least monthly overwash. Most of the washover accretion resulted from the site morphology having a low resistance to overwash, as opposed to being directly impacted by major storms. Washover deposits can accrete landward over multi-year time scales in the absence of large storms; therefore, paleotempestites can be more complex than single event beds.
Project description:Sea-level rise is a major factor in wetland loss worldwide, and in much of Chesapeake Bay (USA) the rate of sea-level rise is higher than the current global rate of 3.2 mm yr-1 due to regional subsidence. Marshes along estuarine salinity gradients differ in vegetation composition, productivity, decomposition pathways, and sediment dynamics, and may exhibit different responses to sea-level rise. Coastal marshes persist by building vertically at rates at or exceeding regional sea-level rise. In one of the first studies to examine elevation dynamics across an estuarine salinity gradient, we installed 15 surface elevation tables (SET) and accretion marker-horizon plots (MH) in tidal freshwater, oligohaline, and brackish marshes across a Chesapeake Bay subestuary. Over the course of four years, wetlands across the subestuary decreased 1.8 ± 2.7 mm yr-1 in elevation on average, at least 5 mm yr-1 below that needed to keep pace with global sea-level rise. Elevation change rates did not significantly differ among the marshes studied, and ranged from -9.8 ± 6.9 to 4.5 ± 4.3 mm yr-1. Surface accretion of deposited mineral and organic matter was uniformly high across the estuary (~9-15 mm yr-1), indicating that elevation loss was not due to lack of accretionary input. Position in the estuary and associated salinity regime were not related to elevation change or surface matter accretion. Previous studies have focused on surface elevation change in marshes of uniform salinity (e.g., salt marshes); however, our findings highlight the need for elevation studies in marshes of all salinity regimes and different geomorphic positions, and warn that brackish, oligohaline, and freshwater tidal wetlands may be at similarly high risk of submergence in some estuaries.
Project description:The implementation and monitoring of management strategies is integral to protect coastal marshes from increased inundation and submergence under sea-level rise. Sediment addition is one such strategy in which sediment is added to marshes to raise relative elevations, decrease tidal inundation, and enhance ecosystem processes. This study looked at the plant and invertebrate community responses over 12 months following a sediment addition project on a salt marsh located in an urbanized estuary in southern California, USA. This salt marsh is experiencing local subsidence, is sediment-limited from landscape modifications, has resident protected species, and is at-risk of submergence from sea-level rise. Abiotic measurements, invertebrate cores, and plant parameters were analyzed before and after sediment application in a before-after-control-impact (BACI) design. Immediately following the sediment application, plant cover and invertebrate abundance decreased significantly, with smothering of existing vegetation communities without regrowth, presumably creating resulting harsh abiotic conditions. At six months after the sediment application treatment, Salicornia bigelovii minimally colonized the sediment application area, and Spartina foliosa spread vegetatively from the edges of the marsh; however, at 12 months following sediment application overall plant recovery was still minimal. Community composition of infaunal invertebrates shifted from a dominance of marsh-associated groups like oligochaetes and polychaetes to more terrestrial and more mobile dispersers like insect larvae. In contrast to other studies, such as those with high organic deposition, that showed vegetation and invertebrate community recovery within one year of sediment application, our results indicated a much slower recovery following a sediment addition of 32 cm which resulted in a supratidal elevation with an average of 1.62 m (NAVD88) at our sampling locations. Our results indicate that the site did not recover after one year and that recovery may take longer which illustrates the importance of long-term monitoring to fully understand restoration trajectories and inform adaptive management. Testing and monitoring sea-level rise adaptation strategies like sediment addition for salt marshes is important to prevent the loss of important coastal ecosystems.
Project description:The evolution of tidal marsh platforms and interwoven channel networks cannot be addressed without treating the two-way interactions that link biological and physical processes. We have developed a 3D model of tidal marsh accretion and channel network development that couples physical sediment transport processes with vegetation biomass productivity. Tidal flow tends to cause erosion, whereas vegetation biomass, a function of bed surface depth below high tide, influences the rate of sediment deposition and slope-driven transport processes such as creek bank slumping. With a steady, moderate rise in sea level, the model builds a marsh platform and channel network with accretion rates everywhere equal to the rate of sea-level rise, meaning water depths and biological productivity remain temporally constant. An increase in the rate of sea-level rise, or a reduction in sediment supply, causes marsh-surface depths, biomass productivity, and deposition rates to increase while simultaneously causing the channel network to expand. Vegetation on the marsh platform can promote a metastable equilibrium where the platform maintains elevation relative to a rapidly rising sea level, although disturbance to vegetation could cause irreversible loss of marsh habitat.
Project description:Marshes display impressive biogeomorphic features, such as zonation, a mosaic of extensive vegetation patches of rather uniform composition, exhibiting sharp transitions in the presence of extremely small topographic gradients. Although generally associated with the accretion processes necessary for marshes to keep up with relative sea level rise, competing environmental constraints, and ecologic controls, zonation is still poorly understood in terms of the underlying biogeomorphic mechanisms. Here we find, through observations and modeling interpretation, that zonation is the result of coupled geomorphological-biological dynamics and that it stems from the ability of vegetation to actively engineer the landscape by tuning soil elevation within preferential ranges of optimal adaptation. We find multiple peaks in the frequency distribution of observed topographic elevation and identify them as the signature of biologic controls on geomorphodynamics through competing stable states modulated by the interplay of inorganic and organic deposition. Interestingly, the stable biogeomorphic equilibria correspond to suboptimal rates of biomass production, a result coherent with recent observations. The emerging biogeomorphic structures may display varying degrees of robustness to changes in the rate of sea level rise and sediment availability, with implications for the overall resilience of marsh ecosystems to climatic changes.
Project description:Coastal resilience is threatened as storm-induced disturbances become more frequent and intense with anticipated changes in regional climate. After severe storms, rapid recovery of vegetation, especially that of dune-stabilizing plants, is a fundamental property of coastal resilience. Herbivores may affect resilience by foraging and trampling in disturbed areas. Consequently, assessing the impacts of herbivores on recovering vegetation is important for coastal land management.We combined imagery classification, wildlife monitoring, and trend analysis to investigate effects of white-tailed deer on recovery rates of vegetation four years poststorm in nine overwashed areas. We estimated local deer density with trail cameras, how it relates to an index of primary productivity, and assessed the relationship between deer density and rates of vegetation recovery in overwash fans.Prestorm vegetation cover consisted of shrubs and sporadic patches of beach grass. Poststorm cover was dominated by beach grass. At current rates, vegetation coverage will return to prestorm conditions within the decade, though community transition from grasses to shrubs will take much longer and will vary by site with dune formation.The effect of deer on rates of vegetation recovery was negative, but not statistically significant nor biologically compelling. Although effects of deer trampling on beach grass are evident in classified imagery, deer foraging on beach grass had little effect on its rate of spread throughout overwash fans.While the rate of spread of the primary dune-building grass was not deleteriously affected by deer, locally high deer densities will likely affect the future establishment and development of herbs and shrubs, which are generally more palatable to deer than beach grass.
Project description:The impacts of sea-level rise (SLR) on coastal ecosystems have attracted worldwide attention in relation to global change. In this study, the salt marsh model for the Yangtze Estuary (SMM-YE, developed in China) and the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM, developed in the U.S.) were used to simulate the effects of SLR on the coastal salt marshes in eastern China. The changes in the dominant species in the plant community were also considered. Predictions based on the SLAMM indicated a trend of habitat degradation up to 2100; total salt marsh habitat area continued to decline (4-16%) based on the low-level scenario, with greater losses (6-25%) predicted under the high-level scenario. The SMM-YE showed that the salt marshes could be resilient to threats of SLR through the processes of accretion of mudflats, vegetation expansion and sediment trapping by plants. This model predicted that salt marsh areas increased (3-6%) under the low-level scenario. The decrease in the total habitat area with the SMM-YE under the high-level scenario was much lower than the SLAMM prediction. Nevertheless, SLR might negatively affect the salt marsh species that are not adapted to prolonged inundation. An adaptive strategy for responding to changes in sediment resources is necessary in the Yangtze Estuary.
Project description:High rates of wave-induced erosion along salt marsh boundaries challenge the idea that marsh survival is dictated by the competition between vertical sediment accretion and relative sea-level rise. Because waves pounding marshes are often locally generated in enclosed basins, the depth and width of surrounding tidal flats have a pivoting control on marsh erosion. Here, we show the existence of a threshold width for tidal flats bordering salt marshes. Once this threshold is exceeded, irreversible marsh erosion takes place even in the absence of sea-level rise. This catastrophic collapse occurs because of the positive feedbacks among tidal flat widening by wave-induced marsh erosion, tidal flat deepening driven by wave bed shear stress, and local wind wave generation. The threshold width is determined by analyzing the 50-y evolution of 54 marsh basins along the US Atlantic Coast. The presence of a critical basin width is predicted by a dynamic model that accounts for both horizontal marsh migration and vertical adjustment of marshes and tidal flats. Variability in sediment supply, rather than in relative sea-level rise or wind regime, explains the different critical width, and hence erosion vulnerability, found at different sites. We conclude that sediment starvation of coastlines produced by river dredging and damming is a major anthropogenic driver of marsh loss at the study sites and generates effects at least comparable to the accelerating sea-level rise due to global warming.
Project description: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.