An equilibrium profile model for retreating marsh shorelines in southeast Louisiana

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Louisiana's coastal marshes are experiencing the highest wetland loss rates in the U.S., in part due to subsidence-driven relative sea-level rise. These marshes are also vulnerable to the erosive power of wave attack: 1) on the marsh edge adjacent to open-water bodies, and 2) after the marsh platform is submerged. Marsh shorelines in Barataria Bay, Breton Sound, and the active Balize delta of southeastern Louisiana were examined in areas where the subaerial marsh platform had disappeared since 1932. Vibracore transects of marsh and adjacent bay surface sediments (to ∼2 m depth) were analyzed using geotechnical, stratigraphic, and radiochemical (137-Cs and 210-Pb) methods, and the subaerial-to-subaqueous transition of the marsh was mapped for elevation using standard stadia rod transit and fathometer measurements. Results indicate that marsh edge erosion of the platform takes place subaqueously until water depths of ∼1.5 m are reached. This is observed even in interior pond regions, but the shoreface elevation profiles are a function of fetch: exposed open bay sites display greater incision (depth and rate) of the marsh platform than protected interior bay or pond sites. Core stratigraphy reveals that the outer part of the subaqueous platform switches from erosional to depositional as retreat proceeds, covering the incised marsh deposits unconformably with estuarine shelly muds. 137-Cs and excess 210-Pb activity indicates that these muds are deposited within a few decades of subaerial marsh loss. The consistency of the cross-shore profile results suggests that a single profile of equilibrium can approximate the morphology of eroding marsh edges in southeast Louisiana: platform stratigraphy and resistance to erosion have a limited effect on profile shape. This equilibrium profile and remote sensing images of shoreline change are used to estimate the sediment yield to adjacent estuarine areas by this process. On average, 1.5 m of sediment are yielded per m shoreline length annually from both Barataria Bay and Breton Sound. Due to the highly organic nature of the eroded sediment (∼30%), this supply of organic-rich material could significantly impact estuarine productivity and hypoxia on the Louisiana continental shelf. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 3

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science

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