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Title: The Effect of Marsh Age on Ecosystem Function in a Rapidly Transgressing Marsh
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Award ID(s):
1654374 1832221
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Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Marsh habitats, experiencing accelerated change, require accurate monitoring techniques. We developed methods to quantify marsh edge morphology using airborne LiDAR data. We then applied these methods within the context of oyster reef restoration within the shallow coastal bays of Virginia, USA, by comparing retreat and morphology quantified at paired reef-lined and control marsh edges at 10 different marsh sites. Retreat metrics were analyzed between 2002 and 2015, utilizing a LiDAR derived edge for the year 2015 from points of maximum slope and aerial imagery pre-2015. Retreat was also compared before and after oyster reef restoration to determine if reefs slow erosion. We found that slope statistics from airborne LiDAR elevation data can accurately capture marsh edge morphology. Retreat rate, measured at edges typically found near the vegetation line, was not significantly different between reef-lined and control marshes and ranged from 0.14 to 0.79 m yr -1 . Both retreat rate (ρ = -0.90) and net movement (ρ = -0.88) were strongly correlated to marsh edge elevation. Exposed control marshes had significantly greater mean and maximum slope values compared to reef-lined marshes. The mean edge slope was 11.4° for exposed marshes and 6.0° for reef-lined marshes. We hypothesize that oyster reefsmore »are causing an elongation of the marsh edge by reducing retreat at lower elevations of the marsh edge. Therefore, changes in marsh edge morphology may be a precursor to changes in marsh retreat rates over longer timescales and emphasizes the need for repeated LiDAR measurements to capture processes driving marsh edge dynamics.« less
  2. Complexities of terrestrial boundaries with salt marshes in coastal lagoons affect salt marsh exposure to waves and sediments creating different potentials for marsh migration inland and seaward-edge erosion, and consequently, for marsh persistence. Between 2002 and 2017, migration and edge erosion were measured in three mainland geomorphic marsh types (headland, valley, hammock) and were used to assess the rate and spatial extent of marsh change for a Virginia coastal lagoon system. Treelines, shorelines, and marsh perimeters were delineated in ArcGIS at 1:600 resolution. All marsh types increased in spatial extent; increases were greatest for the valley type (0.58 ha ± 0.31 ha or + 0.32% per annum). Measured rates of migration (headland > valley > hammock) and erosion (headland > hammock > valley) for each geomorphic type were averaged and applied to obtain changes in these same marsh types at the regional scale. At this scale, valley marsh area increased (82.5 ha or 5.5 ha a−1) more than the other two marsh types combined. This analysis demonstrates the critical influence that geomorphic type has on lateral marsh responses to sea-level rise and that efforts to conserve or restore salt marshes are most likely to be successful when focused on valley marshes.