Vegetation death and rapid loss of surface elevation in two contrasting Mississippi delta salt marshes: The role of sedimentation, autocompaction and sea-level rise

Ecological Engineering
By: , and 

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Abstract

From 1990 to 2004, we carried out a study on accretionary dynamics and wetland loss in salt marshes surrounding two small ponds in the Mississippi delta; Old Oyster Bayou (OB), a sediment-rich area near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River and Bayou Chitigue (BC), a sediment-poor area about 70. km to the east. The OB site was stable, while most of the marsh at BC disappeared within a few years. Measurements were made of short-term sedimentation, vertical accretion, change in marsh surface elevation, pond wave activity, and marsh soil characteristics. The OB marsh was about 10. cm higher than BC; the extremes of the elevation range for Spartina alterniflora in Louisiana. Vertical accretion and short-term sedimentation were about twice as high at BC than at OB, but the OB marsh captured nearly all sediments deposited, while the BC marsh captured <30%. The OB and BC sites flooded about 15% and 85% of the time, respectively. Marsh loss at BC was not due to wave erosion. The mineral content of deposited sediments was higher at OB. Exposure and desiccation of the marsh surface at OB increased the efficiency that deposited sediments were incorporated into the marsh soil, and displaced the marsh surface upward by biological processes like root growth, while also reducing shallow compaction. Once vegetation dies, there is a loss of soil volume due to loss of root turgor and oxidation of root organic matter, which leads to elevation collapse. Revegetation cannot occur because of the low elevation and weak soil strength. The changes in elevation at both marsh sites are punctuated, occurring in steps that can either increase or decrease elevation. When a marsh is low as at BC, a step down can result in an irreversible change. At this point, the option is not restoration but creating a new marsh with massive sediment input either from the river or via dredging. ?? 2010 Elsevier B.V.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Vegetation death and rapid loss of surface elevation in two contrasting Mississippi delta salt marshes: The role of sedimentation, autocompaction and sea-level rise
Series title Ecological Engineering
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2010.11.021
Volume 37
Issue 2
Year Published 2011
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Ecological Engineering
First page 229
Last page 240