A coupled geomorphic and ecological model of tidal marsh evolution.
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.
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