Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Iris C. anderson

Committee Member

Richard L. Wetzel


The sources and fates of carbon in a tidal freshwater marsh (Sweet Hall marsh; Pamunkey River, Virginia) were determined to understand the role that these marshes play with respect to estuarine carbon cycling. A carbon gas flux model, based on measured carbon dioxide and methane fluxes, was developed to calculate annual rates of macrophyte and microalgal photosynthesis and community and belowground respiration. Because carbon fluxes out of marsh sediments may underestimate true belowground respiration if sediment-produced gases are transported through plant tissues, gross nitrogen mineralization was used as a proxy for belowground carbon respiration. Annual community respiration exceeded gross photosynthesis, suggesting an allochthonous input of organic carbon to the marsh. Sediment deposition during tidal flooding was measured as a potential exogenous carbon source. Short term deposition rates (biweekly to monthly) were spatially and temporally variable, with highest rates measured near a tidal creek during summer. Annual deposition on the marsh was sufficient to balance relative sea level rise and measured respiration rates. Sediment inventories of 7Be indicated that spatial patterns of sedimentation were not due to sediment redistribution within the marsh. Accretion rates calculated from 137Cs (decadal scale) and 14C (centuries to millennia) were substantially less than annual deposition rates. The concentration and isotopic composition of dissolved and particulate inorganic and organic carbon (DIC, DOC, POC) were measured in a marsh creek which drained the study site. Seasonal isotopic variations in DIC were explained by marsh porewater drainage and decomposition of marsh-derived carbon. A model linking DIC concentrations and water transport showed that DIC export from tidal marshes could explain a significant portion of excess DIC production in the adjacent estuary. Isotopic mixing models indicated seasonal variability in the importance of phytoplankton as a source of DOC and POC although there was no evidence for a net flux of these materials between the marsh and estuary. Annually, the marsh carbon budget was closely balanced, with sources exceeding sinks by approximately 5 percent. This similarity suggests that those processes which were not quantified (e.g. consumption by marsh and riverine fauna) were quantitatively unimportant with respect to the entire marsh carbon budget.



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