Document Type

Article

Department/Program

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date

2019

Journal

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms

Volume

44

First Page

944

Last Page

952

Abstract

Vegetation is a critical component of the ecogeomorphic feedbacks that allow a salt marsh to build soil and accrete vertically. Vegetation dieback can therefore have detrimental effects on marsh stability, especially under conditions of rising sea levels. Here, we report a variety of sediment transport measurements associated with an unexpected, natural dieback in a rapidly prograding marsh in the Altamaha River Estuary, Georgia. We find that vegetation mortality led to a significant loss in elevation at the dieback site as evidenced by measurements of vertical accretion, erosion, and surface topography compared to vegetated refer- ence areas. Below-ground vegetation mortality led to reduced soil shear strength. The dieback site displayed an erosional, concave-up topographic profile, in contrast to the reference sites. At the location directly impacted by the dieback, there was a reduction in flood dominance of suspended sediment concentration. Our work illustrates how a vegetation disturbance can at least temporarily reverse the local trajectory of a prograding marsh and produce complex patterns of sediment transport.

DOI

10.1002/esp.4547

Keywords

dieback; sediment transport; salt marsh; erosion; vegetation

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