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Sediment cores were collected from three Louisiana coastal marsh ponds, dated with radioisotopes, and analyzed for diatom remains to determine if long-term salinity changes were evident in the sediment record. A diatom-based salinity index formulated from a statistical comparison of available salinity data and changing diatom assemblages demonstrated that diatom remains appear to preserve salinity signals in coastal brackish and salt marsh environments. The salinity index was applied to sediment cores spanning the late 1600s to the 1990s and provided a more complete record of salinity than field data, which were temporally and spatially incomplete. The salinity reconstructions indicated that salinity has increased at two sites and decreased at a third since the early 1900s. The salinity changes are less than 1‰ per decade in all cases, and may be due to natural variability as depicted by the wide range of salinities observed between the late 1600s and 1900. Salinity regimes may be very localized (<2 km from a hydrologic source), indicating single-site studies may not be applicable to regional inferences. This study demonstrates that diatoms can be used to reconstruct past salinity in coastal marsh environments and can provide a useful tool with which to study the changing hydrology of river-influenced ecosystems.

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