Saltmarsh pool and tidal creek morphodynamics: Dynamic equilibrium of northern latitude saltmarshes?

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Many saltmarsh platforms in New England and other northern climates (e.g. Canada, northern Europe) exhibit poor drainage, creating waterlogged regions where short-form Spartina alterniflora dominates and stagnant pools that experience tidal exchange only during spring tides and storm-induced flooding events. The processes related to pool formation and tidal creek incision (via headward erosion) that may eventually drain these features are poorly understood, however it has been suggested that an increase in pool occurrence in recent decades is due to waterlogging stress from sea-level rise. We present evidence here that saltmarshes in Plum Island Estuary of Massachusetts are keeping pace with sea-level rise, and that the recent increase in saltmarsh pool area coincides with changes in drainage density from a legacy of anthropogenic ditching (reversion to natural drainage conditions). Gradients, in addition to elevation and hydroperiod, are critical for saltmarsh pool formation. Additionally, elevation and vegetative changes associated with pool formation, creek incision, subsequent drainage of pools, and recolonization by S. alterniflora are quantified. Pool and creek dynamics were found to be cyclic in nature, and represent platform elevation in dynamic equilibrium with sea level whereby saltmarsh elevation may be lowered (due to degradation of organic matter and formation of a pool), however may be regained on short timescales (10 yr) with creek incision into pools and restoration of tidal exchange. Rapid vertical accretion is associated with sedimentation and S. alterniflora plant recolonization. © 2014 Elsevier B.V. 1-2

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