Varying inundation regimes differentially affect natural and sand-amended marsh sediments

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Climate change is altering sea level rise rates and precipitation patterns worldwide. Coastal wetlands are vulnerable to these changes. System responses to stressors are important for resource managers and environmental stewards to understand in order to best manage them. Thin layer sand or sediment application to drowning and eroding marshes is one approach to build elevation and resilience. The above- and below-ground structure, soil carbon dioxide emissions, and pore water constituents in vegetated natural marsh sediments and sand-amended sediments were examined at varying inundation regimes between mean sea level and mean high water (0.82 m NAVD88 to 1.49 m NAVD88) in a field experiment at Laws Point, part of the Plum Island Sound Estuary (MA). Significantly lower salinities, pH, sulfides, phosphates, and ammonium were measured in the sand-amended sediments than in the natural sediments. In natural sediments there was a pattern of increasing salinity with increasing elevation while in the sand-amended sediments the trend was reversed, showing decreasing salinity with increasing elevation. Sulfide concentrations generally increased from low to high inundation with highest concentrations at the highest inundation (i.e., at the lowest elevations). High pore water phosphate concentrations were measured at low elevations in the natural sediments, but the sand-amended treatments had mostly low concentrations of phosphate and no consistent pattern with elevation. At the end of the experiment the lowest elevations generally had the highest measures of pore water ammonium. Soil carbon dioxide emissions were greatest in the sandamended mesocosms and at higher elevations. Differences in coarse root and rhizome abundances and volumes among the sediment treatments were detected with CT imaging, but by 20 weeks the natural and sand-amended treatments showed similar total belowground biomass at the intermediate and high elevations. Although differences in pore water nutrient concentrations, pH, salinity, and belowground root and rhizome morphology were detected between the natural and sand-amended sediments, similar belowground productivity and total biomass were measured by the end of the growing season. Since the belowground productivity supports organic matter accumulation and peat buildup in marshes, our results suggest that thin layer sand or sediment application is a viable climate adaptation action to build elevation and coastal resiliency, especially in areas with low natural sediment supplies.




Wigand, C., Sundberg, K., Hanson, A., Davey, E., Johnson, R., Watson, E., & Morris, J. (2016). Varying inundation regimes differentially affect natural and sand-amended marsh sediments. PLoS ONE, 11(10).

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