The effects of tropical cyclone-generated deposition on the sustainability of the Pearl River marsh, Louisiana: The importance of the geologic framework

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Shoreline retreat is a tremendously important issue along the coast of the northern Gulf of Mexico, especially in Louisiana. Although this marine transgression results from a variety of causes, the crucial factor is the difference between marsh surface elevation and rising sea levels. In most cases, the primary cause of a marsh's inability to keep up with sea level is the lack of input of inorganic material. Although tropical cyclones provide an important source of such sediment, little effort has been made to determine the point of origin of the deposited material. In this study we use sedimentary, geochemical and biogeochemical data to identify the bed of the Pearl River and/or Lake Borgne as the source of a ~5 cm thick clastic layer deposited on the surface of the Pearl River marsh on the Louisiana/Mississippi border. Radiochemical chronologies and sedimentary evidence indicate that this layer was associated with the passage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As this material would otherwise have been lost to the system, this deposition indicates a net gain to marsh surface elevation. Accretion rates, determined from 137Cs and 14C profiles and the use of the Katrina layer as a stratigraphic marker, indicate that short-term (~50 years) rates are as much as an order of magnitude higher than the long- term (1000s of years) rates. We suggest that the marsh's geologic setting in an incised river valley with steep vertical constraints and a large fluvial discharge, promotes rapid accretion rates, with rates accelerating as the sea moves inland, due to extended hydroperiods and the input of clastic material from both the marine and terrestrial sides. These rates are especially large when compared to accretion occurring in the more common open marshes fringing the Gulf that lack fluvial input. The difference is particularly large when related to marsh recovery/regrowth following the deposition of thick hurricane-generated clastic layers. Given the number of similar incised river valleys along the Gulf Coast, we believe that understanding the processes controlling marsh accretion in such environments is essential in evaluating marsh sustainability on a regional basis.




McCloskey, T. A., Smith, C. G., Liu, K. B., & Nelson, P. R. (2018). The effects of tropical cyclone-generated deposition on the sustainability of the Pearl River marsh, Louisiana: The importance of the geologic framework. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 6(NOV).

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