Historical acceleration in the rate of global sea level rise and recent observations of marsh degradation highlight the importance of understanding how marshes respond to sea level change. Here, we use an existing numerical model to demonstrate that marsh morphology, and its effect on biological productivity and vertical accretion, could lag century-scale sea level rise rate oscillations by several decades. This suggests that marshes, and perhaps other intertidal environments, have not been in equilibrium with Holocene sea level. Additional results suggest that marshes have not yet fully responded to historical sea level acceleration. Consequently, marshes today may be out of equilibrium with modern rates of sea level rise, and further adjustment in the form of platform deepening and channel erosion could be expected. Under an accelerating sea level rise rate, the morphology and productivity of marshland will reflect environmental conditions of the past, and studies of marshes today will underestimate their response to sea level rise.
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Tidal marshes as disequilibrium landscapes? Lags between morphology and Holocene sea level change