Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



JGR Biogeosciences





First Page



Salt marshes have among the highest carbon (C) burial rates of any ecosystem and often rely on C accumulation to gain elevation and persist in locations with accelerating sea level rise. Net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB), the accumulation or loss of C resulting from vertical CO2 and CH4 gas fluxes, lateral C fluxes, and sediment C inputs, varies across salt marshes; thus, extrapolation of NECB to an entire marsh is challenging. Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) inputs to salt marshes impact NECB by influencing each component of NECB, but differences in the impacts of fertilization between edge and interior marsh must be considered when scaling up. NECB was estimated for the 0.5 km2 Spartina alterniflora marsh area of Freeman Creek, NC, under control and fertilized conditions at both interior and edge berm sites. Annual CO2 fluxes were nearly balanced at control sites, but fertilization significantly increased net CO2 emissions at edge sites. Lateral C export, modeled using respiration rates, represented a significant C loss that increased with fertilization in both edge and interior marsh. Sediment C input was a significant C source in the interior, nearly doubling with fertilization, but represented a small source on the edge. When extrapolating C exchanges to the entire marsh, including edge which comprised 17% of the marsh area, the marsh displayed net loss of C despite a net C gain in the interior. Fertilization increased net C loss fivefold. Extrapolation of NECB to whole marshes requires inclusion of C fluxes for both edge and interior marsh.


doi: 10.1029/2019JG005509

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