Ecological and morphological response of brackish tidal marshland to the next century of sea level rise: Westham Island, British Columbia

Journal Article (Journal Article)

In response to climatic warming, eustatic sea level has been predicted to rise by about 50 cm in the next century. While feedbacks between vegetation growth and sediment deposition tend to allow marshes to maintain their morphology under a constant rate of sea level rise, recent observations of marsh deterioration suggest that changes in the rate of sea level rise may induce loss of economically and ecologically important marshland. We have developed a three dimensional model of tidal marsh evolution that couples vegetation growth and sediment transport processes including bed accretion and wave erosion. We use the model to simulate the response of marshes and tidal flats along the Fraser River Delta, British Columbia to 100 yr forecasts of sea level change. Under low sea level-rise scenarios, the delta and its marshes prograde slightly, consistent with historical measurements. While accretionary processes greatly mediate the response to increased rates of sea level rise, vegetation zones transgress landward under median and high sea level rise rate scenarios. In these scenarios, low marsh erosion and constriction of high marsh vegetation against a dyke at its landward edge result in a 15-35% loss of marshland in the next century. Several important behavioral changes take place after 2050, suggesting that predictions based on field observations and short term model experiments may not adequately characterize (and sometimes underestimate) long-term change. In particular, the replacement of highly productive high marsh vegetation by less productive low marsh vegetation results in continued reduction of the system's total biomass productivity, even as the rate of loss of vegetated area begins to decline. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kirwan, ML; Murray, AB

Published Date

  • February 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 60 / 3-4

Start / End Page

  • 471 - 486

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0921-8181

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2007.05.005

Citation Source

  • Scopus