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The storm surge from a single hurricane can deposit tens of millions of tons of sediment on coastal wetlands within 100 km of landfall, but the distribution and cumulative amount from hurricanes at a centurial timescale is unknown. Here we use a model calibrated by three storms to estimate the average deposition on the deteriorating Louisiana coast from 1851 to 2008. The total deposition on Louisiana coastal wetlands, exclusive of open water, averages 5.6 million tons of inorganic sediment per year, equivalent to 3.8 % of the modern annual Mississippi River sediment load. Seventy nine percent of this sediment is deposited in a 20 km strip along the Gulf of Mexico (7,400 km(2) wetlands) comprised primarily of salt marshes, and this distribution matches spatial and temporal patterns described in modern surficial deposits and sediment cores. We estimate that surge-induced deposition of sediment is attributable to at least 65 % of the inorganic content of the top 24 cm of soils in abandoned delta lobes, and 80 % in the chenier plain. While the most sedimentation from a given event results from the most intense storms, 78 % of the long-term hurricane sedimentation results from moderate storms (930-990 mb) that comprise 51 % of tropical cyclone events. Furthermore, we estimate that the 47 % of storms that make landfall with an internal barometric pressure above 990 mb account for only 7 % of the tropical cyclone sedimentation on wetlands.

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Landscape Ecology

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