We conducted greenhouse microcosm experiments to examine the biogeochemical effects of restoring seawater to historically diked Cape Cod salt marshes. Peat cores from both seasonally flooded and drained diked marshes were waterlogged with seawater, and porewater chemistry was subsequently monitored for 21 mo. The addition of seawater to highly organic, seasonally flooded peat caused the death of freshwater wetland plants, 6-8 cm of sediment subsidence, and increased N and P mineralization. Also, sulfides and alkalinity increased 10-fold, suggesting accelerated decomposition by sulfate reduction. Addition of seawater to the low-organic-content acidic peat from the drained marsh increased porewater pH, alkalinity, PO4-P, and Fe(II), which we attribute to the reestablishment of SO4 and Fe(III) mineral reduction. Increased cation exchange contributed to 6-fold increases in dissolved Fe(II) and Al and 60-fold increases in NH4-N within 6 mo of sail-nation. Seawater reintroductions to seasonally flooded diked marshes will cause porewater sulfides to increase, likely reducing the success of revegetation efforts. Sulfide toxicity is of less concern in resalinated drained peats because of the abundance of Fe(II) to precipitate sulfides, and of NH4-N to offset sulfide inhibition of N uptake. Restoration of either seasonally flooded or drained diked marshes could stimulate potentially large nutrient and Fe(II) releases, which could in turn increase primary production and lower oxygen in receiving waters. These findings suggest that tidal restoration be gradual and carefully monitored.
Additional publication details
Biogeochemical effects of seawater restoration to diked salt marshes