Watershed and ocean controls of salt marsh extent and resilience

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The formation and evolution of tidal platforms are controlled by the feedbacks between hydrodynamics, geomorphology, vegetation, and sediment transport. Previous work mainly addresses dynamics at the scale of individual marsh platforms. Here, we develop a process-based model to investigate salt marsh depositional/erosional dynamics and resilience to environmental change at the scale of tidal basins. We evaluate how inputs of water and sediment from river and ocean sources interact, how losses of sediment to the ocean depend on this interaction, and how erosional/depositional dynamics are coupled to these exchanges. Model experiments consider a wide range of watershed, basin, and oceanic characteristics, represented by river discharge and suspended sediment concentration, basin dimensions, tidal range, and ocean sediment concentration. In some scenarios, the vertical accretion of a tidal flat can be greater than the rate of sea level rise. Under these conditions, vertical depositional dynamics can lead to transitions between tidal flat and salt marsh equilibrium states. This type of transition occurs much more rapidly than transitions occurring through horizontal marsh expansion or retreat. In addition, our analyses reveal that river inputs can affect the existence and extent of marsh/tidal flat equilibria by both directly providing suspended sediment (favoring marshes) and by modulating water exchanges with the ocean, thereby indirectly affecting the ocean sediment input to the system (favoring either marshes or tidal flats depending on the ratio of the river and ocean water inputs and their sediment concentrations). The model proposed has the goal of clarifying the roles of the main dynamic processes at play, rather than of predicting the evolution of a particular tidal system. Our model results most directly reflect micro- and meso-tidal environments but also have implications for macro-tidal settings. The model-based analyses presented extend our theoretical understanding of marsh dynamics to a greater range of intertidal environments. © 2020 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Yousefi Lalimi, F; Marani, M; Heffernan, JB; D'Alpaos, A; Murray, AB

Published Date

  • May 1, 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 45 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1456 - 1468

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-9837

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0197-9337

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/esp.4817

Citation Source

  • Scopus