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  1. Shallow coastal ecosystems are threatened by marine heatwaves, but few long-term records exist to quantify these heatwaves. Here, 40-year records of measured water temperature were constructed for a site in a system of shallow bays with documented heatwave impacts and a nearby ocean site; available gridded sea-surface temperature datasets in the region were also examined. Water temperatures at both sites increased significantly though bay temperatures were consistently 3-4°C hotter in summer and colder in winter and were more variable overall, differences not captured in high-resolution gridded sea-surface temperature datasets. There was considerable overlap in heatwave events at the coastal bay and ocean sites. Annual heatwave exposure was similar and significantly increased at both sites while annual heatwave intensity was significantly higher at the bay site owing to the high variance of the daily temperature anomaly there. Event frequency at both sites increased at a rate of about 1 event/decade. Future simulations indicate all heatwave metrics increase, as do days above 28°C, a heat stress threshold for seagrass. Ocean temperatures on the U.S. mid-Atlantic margin have rarely exceeded this threshold, while summer bay temperatures commonly do, allowing ocean exchange with coastal bays to provide thermal relief to bay ecosystems. This will have changed by 2100, creating a thermal environment that threatens seagrass communities in these systems. Documenting such change requires development of long-term water temperature records in more shallow coastal systems.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 7, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Storm surge has the potential to significantly increase suspended sediment flux to microtidal marshes. However, the overall effects of storm surge on microtidal marsh deposition have not been well quantified, with most modeling studies focusing on regular (astronomical) tidal flooding. Here we applied the Delft3D model to a microtidal bay‐marsh complex in Hog Bay, Virginia to quantify the contributions of storm surge to marsh deposition. We validated the model using spatially distributed hydrodynamic and suspended sediment data collected from the site and ran model simulations under different storm surge conditions with/without storm‐driven water level changes. Our results show that episodic storm surge events occurred 5% of the time at our study site, but contributed 40% of marsh deposition during 2009–2020. Our simulations illustrate that while wind‐driven waves control sediment resuspension on tidal flats, marsh deposition during storms was largely determined by tidal inundation associated with storm‐driven water levels. A moderate storm surge event can double sediment flux to most marshes around the bay and deliver more sediment to the marsh interior compared to simulations that include wind waves but not storm surge variations in water levels. Simulations of bay and marsh response to different storm surge events with varying magnitude of storm surge intensity reveal that total marsh deposition around the bay increased linearly with storm surge intensity, suggesting that future changes to storm magnitude and/or frequency would have significant implications for sediment supply to marshes at our study site.

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  3. Abstract

    Seagrass meadows are important carbon sinks in the global coastal carbon cycle yet are also among the most rapidly declining marine habitats. Their ability to sequester carbon depends on flow–sediment–vegetation interactions that facilitate net deposition, as well as high rates of primary production. However, the effects of seasonal and episodic variations in seagrass density on net sediment and carbon accumulation have not been well quantified. Understanding these dynamics provides insight into how carbon accumulation in seagrass meadows responds to disturbance events and climate change. Here, we apply a spatially resolved sediment transport model that includes coupling of seagrass effects on flow, waves, and sediment resuspension in a seagrass meadow to quantify seasonal rates of sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow. Our results show that organic carbon accumulation rates were largely determined by sediment accumulation and that they both changed non‐linearly as a function of seagrass shoot density. While seagrass meadows effectively trapped sediment at meadow edges during spring–summer growth seasons, during winter senescence low‐density meadows (< 160 shoots m−2) were erosional with rates sensitive to density. Small variations in winter densities resulted in large changes in annual sediment and carbon accumulation in the meadow; meadow‐scale (hundreds of square meters) summer seagrass dieback due to marine heatwaves can result in annual erosion and carbon loss. Our findings highlight the strong temporal and spatial variability in sediment accumulation within seagrass meadows and the implications for annual sediment carbon burial rates and the resilience of seagrass carbon stocks under future climate change.

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  4. null (Ed.)
    Worldwide, seagrass meadows accumulate significant stocks of organic carbon (C), known as “blue” carbon, which can remain buried for decades to centuries. However, when seagrass meadows are disturbed, these C stocks may be remineralized, leading to significant CO 2 emissions. Increasing ocean temperatures, and increasing frequency and severity of heat waves, threaten seagrass meadows and their sediment blue C. To date, no study has directly measured the impact of seagrass declines from high temperatures on sediment C stocks. Here, we use a long-term record of sediment C stocks from a 7-km 2 , restored eelgrass ( Zostera marina ) meadow to show that seagrass dieback following a single marine heat wave (MHW) led to significant losses of sediment C. Patterns of sediment C loss and re-accumulation lagged patterns of seagrass recovery. Sediment C losses were concentrated within the central area of the meadow, where sites experienced extreme shoot density declines of 90% during the MHW and net losses of 20% of sediment C over the following 3 years. However, this effect was not uniform; outer meadow sites showed little evidence of shoot declines during the MHW and had net increases of 60% of sediment C over the following 3 years. Overall, sites with higher seagrass recovery maintained 1.7x as much C compared to sites with lower recovery. Our study demonstrates that while seagrass blue C is vulnerable to MHWs, localization of seagrass loss can prevent meadow-wide C losses. Long-term (decadal and beyond) stability of seagrass blue C depends on seagrass resilience to short-term disturbance events. 
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  5. The movement of salt marshes into uplands and marsh submergence as sea level rises is well documented; however, predicting how coastal marshes will respond to rising sea levels is constrained by a lack of process-based understanding of how various marsh zones adjust to changes in sea level. To assess the way in which salt-marsh zones differ in their elevation response to sea-level change, and to evaluate how potential hydrologic drivers influence the response, surface elevation tables, marker horizons, and shallow rod surface elevation tables were installed in a Virginia salt marsh in three zones that differed in elevation and vegetation type. Decadal rates of elevation change, surface accretion, and shallow subsidence or expansion were examined in the context of hydrologic drivers that included local sea-level rise, flooding frequency, hurricane storm-surge, and precipitation. Surface elevation increases were fastest in the low-elevation zone, intermediate in the middle-elevation zone, and slowest in the high-elevation zone. These rates are similar to (low- and middle-marsh) or less than (high-marsh) local rates of sea-level rise. Root-zone expansion, presumably due to root growth and organic matter accumulation, varied among the three salt marsh zones and accounted for 37%, but probably more, of the increase in marsh surface elevation. We infer that, during marsh transgression, soil-forming processes shift from biogenic (high marsh) to minerogenic (low marsh) in response, either directly or indirectly, to changing hydrologic drivers. 
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  6. Salt marshes are recognized as valuable resources that are threatened by climate change and human activities. Better management and planning for these ecosystems will depend on understanding which marshes are most vulnerable, what is driving their change, and what their future trajectory is likely to be. Both observations and models have provided inconsistent answers to these questions, likely in part because of comparisons among sites and/or models that differ significantly in their characteristics and processes. Some of these differences almost certainly arise from processes that are not fully accounted for in marsh morphodynamic models. Here, we review distinguishing properties of marshes, important processes missing from many morphodynamic models, and key measurements missing from many observational studies. We then suggest some comparisons between models and observations that will provide critical tests and insights to improve our ability to forecast future change in these coastal landscapes. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Marine Science Volume 12 is January 3, 2020. Please see for revised estimates. 
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  7. Abstract

    Seagrass growth and senescence exert a strong influence on flow structure and sediment transport processes in coastal environments. However, most previous studies of seasonal seagrass effects either focused on small‐scale field measurements or did not fully resolve the synergistic effects of flow‐wave‐vegetation‐sediment interaction at a meadow scale. In this study, we applied a coupled Delft3D‐FLOW and SWAN model that included effects of seagrass on flow, waves, and sediment resuspension in a shallow coastal bay to quantify seasonal seagrass impacts on bay dynamics. The model was extensively validated using seasonal field hydrodynamic and suspended sediment data within a seagrass meadow and a nearby unvegetated site. Our results show that seagrass meadows significantly attenuated flow (60%) and waves (20%) and reduced suspended sediment concentration (85%) during summer when its density reached a maximum. Probability density distributions of combined wave‐current bed shear stress within the seagrass meadow indicate that significant reductions in sediment resuspension during summer were mainly caused by flow retardation rather than wave attenuation. Although low‐density seagrass in winter resulted in much smaller reductions in flow and waves compared with summer meadows, small changes in winter seagrass density resulted in large differences in the magnitude of attenuation of flow and shear stress. Similarly, while high seagrass densities effectively trapped sediment during summer, small changes in winter density resulted in strong changes in net sediment flux into/out of the meadow. At our study site, low seagrass densities provided significant reductions in wintertime sediment loss compared to losses associated with completely unvegetated conditions.

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  8. null (Ed.)