Storms have long been recognized as agents of geomorphic change to coastal wetlands. A review of recent data on soil elevation dynamics before and after storms revealed that storms affected wetland elevations by storm surge, high winds, and freshwater flushing of the estuary (inferred). The data also indicate that measures of sediment deposition and erosion can often misrepresent the amount and even direction of elevation change because of storm influences on subsurface processes. Simultaneous influence on both surface and subsurface processes by storms means that soil elevation cannot always be accurately estimated from surface process data alone. Eight processes are identified as potentiatly influencing soil elevation: sediment deposition, sediment erosion, sediment compaction, soil shrinkage, root decomposition (following tree mortality from high winds), root growth (following flushing with freshwater, inferred), soil swelling, and lateral folding of the marsh root mat. Local wetland conditions (e.g., marsh health, tide height, groundwater level) and the physical characteristics of the storm (e.g., angle of approach, proximity, amount of rain, wind speed, and storm surge height) were apparently important factors determining the storm's effect on soil elevation. Storm effects on elevation were both permanent (on an ecological time scale) and short-lived, but even short-term changes have potentially important ecological consequences. Shallow soil subsidence or expansion caused by a storm must be considered when calculating local rates of relative sea level rise and evaluating storm effects on wetland stability.
Additional Publication Details
A review of major storm impacts on coastal wetland elevations