Coastal wetlands provide valued ecosystem functions but the sustainability of those functions often is threatened by artificial hydrologic conditions. It is widely recognized that increased flooding and salinity can stress emergent plants, but there are few measurements to guide restoration, management, and mitigation. Marsh flooding can be estimated over large areas with few data where winds have little effect on water levels, but quantifying flooding requires hourly measurements over long time periods where tides are wind-dominated such as the northern Gulf of Mexico. Estimating salinity of flood water requires direct daily measurements because coastal marshes are characterized by dynamic salinity gradients. We analyzed 399,772 hourly observations of water depth and 521,561 hourly observations of water salinity from 14 sites in Louisiana coastal marshes dominated by Spartina patens (Ait.) Muhl. Unlike predicted water levels, observed water levels varied monthly and annually. We attributed those observed variations to variations in river runoff and winds. In stable marshes with slow wetland loss rates, we found that marsh elevation averaged 1 cm above mean high water, 15 cm above mean water, and 32 cm above mean low water levels. Water salinity averaged 3.7 ppt during April, May, and June, and 5.4 ppt during July, August, and September. The daily, seasonal, and annual variation in water levels and salinity that were evident would support the contention that such variation be retained when designing and operating coastal wetland management and restoration projects. Our findings might be of interest to scientists, engineers, and managers involved in restoration, management, and restoration in other regions where S. patens or similar species are common but local data are unavailable. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V.
Additional publication details
Defining restoration targets for water depth and salinity in wind-dominated Spartina patens (Ait.) Muhl. coastal marshes