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Coastal marsh degradation into ponds induces irreversible elevation loss relative to sea level in a microtidal system

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Coastal marshes and their valuable ecosystem services are feared to be lost by sea level rise, yet the mechanisms of marsh degradation into ponds and potential recovery are poorly understood. We quantified and analyzed elevations of marsh surfaces and pond bottoms along a marsh loss gradient (Blackwater River, Maryland, USA). Our analyses show that ponds deepen with increasing tidal channel width connecting the ponds to the river, indicating a new feedback mechanism where channels lead to enhanced tidal export of pond bottom material. Pond elevations also decrease with increasing pond size, consistent with previous work identifying a positive feedback between wind wave erosion and pond size. These two positive feedbacks, combined with bimodal elevation distributions and sharp topographic boundaries between interior ponds and the marsh platform, indicate alternative elevation states and imply that marsh loss by pond formation is nearly irreversible once pond deepening exceeds a critical level.
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
ISSN: 0094-8276
Issue: 18
Volume: 47
Pages: e2020GL089121
Publication year:2020