How progressive vegetation die-off in a tidal marsh would affect flow and sedimentation patterns: A field demonstration

Lennert Schepers*, Alexander Van Braeckel, Tjeerd J. Bouma, Stijn Temmerman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Coastal marshes provide valuable ecosystem functions, but some are facing increasing risks of vegetation loss due to sea level rise and other stressors. A key question is how tidal flow and sedimentation patterns are affected by the spatiotemporal patterns of vegetation loss, as sediment accretion with sea level rise largely affects the potential for marsh recovery. Here, we performed a field study in a macrotidal reed marsh and simulated typical spatiotemporal patterns of vegetation loss by consecutive mowing. For each mowing pattern, the spatial patterns of flow velocities and sedimentation rates were recorded. Our results indicate that initial vegetation loss in inner marsh portions, with an intact vegetation belt alongside channel edges, has limited effect on tidal flows over the marsh. However, subsequent creation of unvegetated corridors connecting the bare inner marsh and the channels increases flow velocities in these corridors but not in remaining vegetation patches. Finally, when all vegetation is removed, sheet flow occurs over the whole marsh instead of concentrated channel flow. Effects on spatial sedimentation patterns are complex and not significant on all measuring locations. Nevertheless, our study indicates that complete vegetation removal results in redistributed sedimentation patterns, with a general tendency of locally reduced sedimentation rates close (< 15 m) to channels and increased sediment supply to inner marshes 15–50 m from channels. Our results highlight that feedbacks between spatial patterns of vegetation loss, tidal sediment transport, and deposition are key to understanding and mitigating risks of marsh loss in face of sea level rise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

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