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- Estuarine, coastal and shelf science
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- National Science Foundation
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High-magnitude storm events such as Hurricane Sandy are powerful agents of geomorphic change in coastal marshes, potentially altering their surface elevation trajectories. But how do a storm’s impacts vary across a large region spanning a variety of wetland settings and storm exposures and intensities.We determined the short-term impacts of Hurricane Sandy at 223 surface elevation table–marker horizon stations in estuarine marshes located across the northeast region of the United States by comparing poststorm surface elevation change with pre-storm elevation trends.We hypothesized that the storm’s effect on marsh elevation trends would be influenced by position relative to landfall (right or left) and distance from landfall. The structural equation model presented predicts that marshes located to the left of landfall were more likely to experience an elevation gain greater than expected, and this positive deviation from pre-storm elevation trends tended to have a greater magnitude than those experiencing negative deviations (elevation loss), potentially due to greater sediment deposition. The magnitude of negative deviations from elevation change in marshes to the right of landfall was greater than for positive deviations, with a greater effect in marshes within 200 km of landfall, potentially from the extent and magnitude of storm surge. Overall, results provide an integrated picture of how storm characteristics combined with the local wetland setting are important to a storm’s impact on surface elevation, and that the surface elevation response can vary widely among sites across a region impacted by the same storm.more » « less
Coastal flooding poses the greatest threat to human life and is often the most common source of damage from coastal storms. From 1980 to 2020, the top 6, and 17 of the top 25, costliest natural disasters in the U.S. were caused by coastal storms, most of these tropical systems. The Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, two of the largest and most densely populated estuaries in the U.S. located in the Mid-Atlantic coastal region, have been significantly impacted by strong tropical cyclones in recent decades, notably Hurricanes Isabel (2003), Irene (2011), and Sandy (2012). Current scenarios of future climate project an increase in major hurricanes and the continued rise of sea levels, amplifying coastal flooding threat. We look at all North Atlantic tropical cyclones (TC) in the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS) database that came within 750 km of the Delmarva Peninsula from 1980 to 2019. For each TC, skew surge and storm tide are computed at 12 NOAA tide gauges throughout the two bays. Spatial variability of the detrended and normalized skew surge is investigated through cross-correlations, regional storm rankings, and comparison to storm tracks. We find Hurricanes Sandy (2012) and Isabel (2003) had the largest surge impact on the Delaware and Chesapeake Bay, respectively. Surge response to TCs in upper and lower bay regions are more similar across bays than to the opposing region in their own bay. TCs that impacted lower bay more than upper bay regions tended to stay offshore east of Delmarva, whereas TCs that impacted upper bay regions tended to stay to the west of Delmarva. Although tropical cyclones are multi-hazard weather events, there continues to be a need to improve storm surge forecasting and implement strategies to minimize the damage of coastal flooding. Results from this analysis can provide insight on the potential regional impacts of coastal flooding from tropical cyclones in the Mid-Atlantic.more » « less
Abstract River deltas all over the world are sinking beneath sea-level rise, causing significant threats to natural and social systems. This is due to the combined effects of anthropogenic changes to sediment supply and river flow, subsidence, and sea-level rise, posing an immediate threat to the 500–1,000 million residents, many in megacities that live on deltaic coasts. The Mississippi River Deltaic Plain (MRDP) provides examples for many of the functions and feedbacks, regarding how human river management has impacted source-sink processes in coastal deltaic basins, resulting in human settlements more at risk to coastal storms. The survival of human settlement on the MRDP is arguably coupled to a shifting mass balance between a deltaic landscape occupied by either land built by the Mississippi River or water occupied by the Gulf of Mexico. We developed an approach to compare 50 % L:W isopleths (L:W is ratio of land to water) across the Atchafalaya and Terrebonne Basins to test landscape behavior over the last six decades to measure delta instability in coastal deltaic basins as a function of reduced sediment supply from river flooding. The Atchafalaya Basin, with continued sediment delivery, compared to Terrebonne Basin, with reduced river inputs, allow us to test assumptions of how coastal deltaic basins respond to river management over the last 75 years by analyzing landward migration rate of 50 % L:W isopleths between 1932 and 2010. The average landward migration for Terrebonne Basin was nearly 17,000 m (17 km) compared to only 22 m in Atchafalaya Basin over the last 78 years (p\0.001), resulting in migration rates of 218 m/year (0.22 km/year) and\0.5 m/year, respectively. In addition, freshwater vegetation expanded in Atchafalaya Basin since 1949 compared to migration of intermediate and brackish marshes landward in the Terrebonne Basin. Changes in salt marsh vegetation patterns were very distinct in these two basins with gain of 25 % in the Terrebonne Basin compared to 90 % decrease in the Atchafalaya Basin since 1949. These shifts in vegetation types as L:W ratio decreases with reduced sediment input and increase in salinity also coincide with an increase in wind fetch in Terrebonne Bay. In the upper Terrebonne Bay, where the largest landward migration of the 50 % L:W ratio isopleth occurred, we estimate that the wave power has increased by 50–100 % from 1932 to 2010, as the bathymetric and topographic conditions changed, and increase in maximum storm-surge height also increased owing to the landward migration of the L:W ratio isopleth. We argue that this balance of land relative to water in this delta provides a much clearer understanding of increased flood risk from tropical cyclones rather than just estimates of areal land loss. We describe how coastal deltaic basins of the MRDP can be used as experimental landscapes to provide insights into how varying degrees of sediment delivery to coastal deltaic floodplains change flooding risks of a sinking delta using landward migrations of 50 % L:W isopleths. The nonlinear response of migrating L:W isopleths as wind fetch increases is a critical feedback effect that should influence human river-management decisions in deltaic coast. Changes in land area alone do not capture how corresponding landscape degradation and increased water area can lead to exponential increase in flood risk to human populations in low-lying coastal regions. Reduced land formation in coastal deltaic basins (measured by changes in the land:water ratio) can contribute significantly to increasing flood risks by removing the negative feedback of wetlands on wave and storm-surge that occur during extreme weather events. Increased flood risks will promote population migration as human risks associated with living in a deltaic landscape increase, as land is submerged and coastal inundation threats rise. These system linkages in dynamic deltaic coasts define a balance of river management and human settlement dependent on a certain level of land area within coastal deltaic basins (L).more » « less
Coastal communities increasingly invest in natural and nature‐based features (e.g., living shorelines) as a strategy to protect shorelines and enhance coastal resilience. Tidal marshes are a common component of these strategies because of their capacity to reduce wave energy and storm surge impacts. Performance metrics of restoration success for living shorelines tend to focus on how the physical structure of the created marsh enhances shoreline protection via proper elevation and marsh plant presence. These metrics do not fully evaluate the level of marsh ecosystem development. In particular, the presence of key marsh bivalve species can indicate the capability of the marsh to provide non‐protective services of value, such as water quality improvement and habitat provision. We observed an unexpected low to no abundance of the filter‐feeding ribbed mussel,
Geukensia demissa, in living shoreline marshes throughout Chesapeake Bay. In salt marsh ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast of the United States, ribbed mussels improve water quality, enhance nutrient removal, stabilize the marsh, and facilitate long‐term sustainability of the habitat. Through comparative field surveys and experiments within a chronosequence of 13 living shorelines spanning 2–16 years since construction, we examined three factors we hypothesized may influence recruitment of ribbed mussels to living shoreline marshes: (1) larval access to suitable marsh habitat, (2) sediment quality of low marsh (i.e., potential mussel habitat), and (3) availability of high‐quality refuge habitat. Our findings suggest that at most sites larval mussels are able to access and settle on living shoreline created marshes behind rock sill structures, but that most recruits are likely not surviving. Sediment organic matter (OM) and plant density were correlated with mussel abundance, and sediment OM increased with marsh age, suggesting that living shoreline design (e.g., sand fill, planting grids) and lags in ecosystem development (sediment properties) are reducing the survival of the young recruits. We offer potential modifications to living shoreline design and implementation practices that may facilitate self‐sustaining ribbed mussel populations in these restored habitats.
As a symptom of accelerated sea level rise and historic impacts to tidal hydrology from agricultural and mosquito control activities, coastal marshes in the Northeastern U.S. are experiencing conversion to open water through edge loss, widening and headward erosion of tidal channels, and the formation and expansion of interior ponds. These interior ponds often form in high elevation marsh, confounding the notion applied in predictive modeling that salt marshes convert to open water when elevation falls below a critical surface inundation threshold. The installation of tidal channel extension features, or runnels, is a technique that has been implemented to reduce water levels and permit vegetation reestablishment in drowning coastal marshes, although there are limited data available to recommend its advisability. We report on 5 years of vegetation and hydrologic monitoring of two locations where a total of 600-m of shallow (0.15–0.30-m in diameter and depth) runnels were installed in 2015 and 2016 to enhance drainage, in the Pettaquamscutt River Estuary, in southern Rhode Island, United States. Results from this Before-After Control-Impact (BACI) designed study found that runnel installation successfully promoted plant recolonization, although runnels did not consistently promote increases in high marsh species presence or diversity. Runnels reduced the groundwater table (by 0.07–0.12 m), and at one location, the groundwater table experienced a 2-fold increase in the fraction of the in-channel tidal range that was observed in the marsh water table. We suggest that restoration of tidal hydrology through runnel installation holds promise as a tool to encourage revegetation and extend the lifespan of drowning coastal marshes where interior ponds are expanding. In addition, our study highlights the importance of considering the rising groundwater table as an important factor in marsh drowning due to expanding interior ponds found on the marsh platform.