Impact of dynamic feedbacks between sedimentation, sea-level rise, and biomass production on near-surface marsh stratigraphy and carbon accumulation

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Authors Simon M. Mudd, Susan M. Howell, James T. Morris
Journal/Conference Name Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Salt marshes accrete both organic and inorganic sediments. Here we present analytical and numerical models of salt marsh sedimentation that, in addition to capturing inorganic processes, explicitly account for above- and belowground organic processes including root growth and decay of organic carbon. The analytical model is used to examine the bias introduced by organic processes into proxy records of sedimentation, namely 137Cs and 210Pb. We find that accretion rates estimated using 210Pb will be less than accretion rates estimated using the 137Cs peak in steadily accreting marshes if (1) carbon decay is significant and (2) data for 210Pb extend below the 137Cs peak. The numerical model expands upon the analytical model by including belowground processes such as compaction and root growth, and by explicitly tracking the evolution of aboveground biomass and its effect on sedimentation rates. Using the numerical model we explore how marsh stratigraphy responds to sediment supply and the rate of sea-level rise. It is calibrated and tested using an extensive data set of both marsh stratigraphy and measurements of vegetation dynamics in a Spartina alterniflora marsh in South Carolina, USA. We find that carbon accumulation in marshes is nonlinearly related to both the supply of inorganic sediment and the rate of sea-level rise; carbon accumulation increases with sea-level rise until sea-level rise reaches a critical rate that drowns the marsh vegetation and halts carbon accumulation. The model predicts that changes in carbon storage resulting from changing sediment supply or sea-level rise are strongly dependent on the background sediment supply if inorganic sediment supply is reduced in an already sediment poor marsh the storage of organic carbon will increase to a far greater extent than in a sediment-rich marsh, provided that the rate of sea-level rise does not exceed a threshold. These results imply that altering sediment supply to estuaries (e.g., by damming upstream rivers or altering littoral sediment transport) could lead to significant changes in the carbon budgets of coastal salt marshes.
Date of publication 2009
Code Programming Language C++
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