Coupling between tidal mudflats and salt marshes affects marsh morphology

Schuerch, Mark, Spencer, Tom and Evans, Ben (2019) Coupling between tidal mudflats and salt marshes affects marsh morphology. Marine Geology, 412 . pp. 95-106. ISSN 0025-3227

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Coupling between tidal mudflats and salt marshes affects marsh morphology
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It is generally assumed that coastal salt marshes are capable of adapting to moderately fast rising sea levels although
local sediment availability crucially affects this capability. Whilst there is an increasing awareness that the local
sediment availability is inherently related to sediment dynamics on the adjacent tidal mudflat, our current
understanding of the interactions between salt marshes and tidal flats is very limited. To address this knowledge gap,
we measured suspended sediment concentrations alongside hydrodynamic, morphological and sediment deposition
measurements over a total period of 16 weeks in a wave-exposed macro-tidal mudflat-salt marsh system on the UK
east coast (Tillingham). Our results show that local sediment supply to the salt marsh is strongly linked to intertidal
sediment dynamics and that the vast majority of suspended sediment deposited on the marsh originates from windwave
induced intertidal sediment resuspension in very close vicinity (< 130 m) to the seaward marsh margin. Vertically
the salt marsh grows at rates >5 mm yr-1, thereby increasing the slope of the tidal mudflat-salt marsh transition and
making the salt marsh susceptible to lateral erosion. Consequently, the marsh edge retreats at a rate of approximately
0.8 m yr-1. Our study shows that the response of coastal salt marshes to climate change is a function of the coupled
tidal mudflat-salt marsh system, rather than their vertical sediment accretion rates alone. Therefore, the idea that salt
marsh adaptability relies on local sediment supply needs to be expanded, incorporating the morphology and long-term
evolution of the adjacent tidal mudflats.

Keywords:Salt marsh, tidal mudflat, sediment deposition, intertidal sediment resuspension
Subjects:F Physical Sciences > F820 Geomorphology
Divisions:College of Science > School of Geography
ID Code:35417
Deposited On:11 Apr 2019 13:17

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