Investigating the impact of in situ soil organic matter degradation through porewater spectroscopic analyses on marsh edge erosion

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Marsh edge erosion results in soil organic matter (SOM) loss from coastal wetlands and is differentially affected by wind waves, soil properties, and vegetation cover. The degradation of SOM may make the marsh edge susceptible to erosion. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of in situ biogeochemical degradations of SOM on marsh edge erosion using porewater spectroscopic analyses. Edge erosion was monitored at 12 transects in one of the highly eroding coastal basins of Louisiana. A total of 36 cores were collected at different distances from the edge of the marsh. Porewater was extracted and analyzed for dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and spectroscopic indicators. The north and west side had greater erosion rates (102.38 ± 5.2 cm yr) than east and south side (78.47 ± 3.3 cm yr). However, the north and east side had greater DOC and refractory carbon but less microbial activity indicating SOM degradation alone did not correlate to edge erosion. The intersecting trend between erosion rate and SOM degradation among four sides of the island indicates the complex nature of edge erosion drivers. The estuarine bottom indicators suggest the eroded SOM is not reburied but rather degraded and emitted back into the atmosphere as CO, potentially contributing to global change. The coastlines projected to experience high sea-level rise in the coming century are vulnerable to losing a large amount of stored carbon in the absence of efficient mitigation measures.

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