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  1. Abstract

    A network of 15 Surface Elevation Tables (SETs) at North Inlet estuary, South Carolina, has been monitored on annual or monthly time scales beginning from 1990 to 1996 and continuing through 2022. Of 73 time series in control plots, 12 had elevation gains equal to or exceeding the local rate of sea-level rise (SLR, 0.34 cm/year). Rising marsh elevation in North Inlet is dominated by organic production and, we hypothesize, is proportional to net ecosystem production. The rate of elevation gain was 0.47 cm/year in plots experimentally fertilized for 10 years with N&P compared to nearby control plots that have gained 0.1 cm/year in 26 years. The excess gains and losses of elevation in fertilized plots were accounted for by changes in belowground biomass and turnover. This is supported by bioassay experiments in marsh organs where at age 2 the belowground biomass of fertilizedS. alternifloraplants was increasing by 1,994 g m−2 year−1, which added a growth premium of 2.4 cm/year to elevation gain. This was contrasted with the net belowground growth of 746 g m−2 year−1in controls, which can add 0.89 cm/year to elevation. Root biomass density was greater in the fertilized bioassay treatments than in controls, plateauing at about 1,374 g m−2and 472 g m−2, respectively. Growth of belowground biomass was dominated by rhizomes, which grew to 3,648 g m−2in the fertilized treatments after 3 years and 1,439 g m−2in the control treatments after 5 years. Depositional wetlands are limited by an exogenous supply of mineral sediment, whereas marshes like North Inlet could be classified as autonomous because they depend on in situ organic production to maintain elevation. Autonomous wetlands are more vulnerable to SLR because their elevation gains are constrained ultimately by photosynthetic efficiency.

     
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  2. Abstract

    The frequency of salt marsh dieback events has increased over the last 25 years with unknown consequences to the resilience of the ecosystem to accelerated sea level rise (SLR). Salt marsh ecosystems impacted by sudden vegetation dieback events were previously thought to recover naturally within a few months to years. In this study, we used a 13‐year collection of remotely sensed imagery to provide evidence that approximately 14% of total marsh area has not revegetated 10 years after a dieback event in Charleston, SC. Dieback onset coincided with a severe drought in 2012, as indicated by the Palmer drought stress index. A second dieback event occurred in 2016 after a historic flood influenced by Hurricane Joaquin in 2015. Unvegetated zones reached nearly 30% of the total marsh area in 2017. We used a light detection and ranging‐derived digital elevation model to determine that most affected areas were associated with lower elevation zones in the interior of the marsh. Further, restoration by grass planting was effective, with pilot‐scale restored plots having greater aboveground biomass than reference sites after two years of transplanting. A positive outcome indicated that the stressors that caused the dieback are no longer present. Despite that, many affected areas have not recovered naturally, even though they are located within the typical elevation range of healthy marshes. A mechanistic modeling approach was used to assess the effects of vegetation dieback on salt marsh resilience to SLR. Predictions indicate that a highly productive restored marsh (2000 g m−2 year−1) would persist at a moderate SLR rate of 60 cm in 100 years, whereas a nonrestored mudflat would lose all its elevation capital after 100 years. Thus, rapid restoration of marsh dieback is critical to avoid further degradation. Also, failure to incorporate the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events that trigger irreversible marsh diebacks underestimates salt marsh vulnerability to climate change. Finally, at an elevated SLR rate of 122 cm in 100 years, which is most likely an extreme climate change scenario, even highly productive ecosystems augmented by sediment placement would not keep pace with SLR. Thus, climate change mitigation actions are also urgently needed to preserve present‐day marsh ecosystems.

     
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  3. Porewater nutrient concentrations were measured as a component of a long-term project seeking to understand how salt marsh primary production and sediment chemistry respond to anthropogenic (e.g. eutrophication) and natural (e.g. sea-level rise) environmental change. Feedbacks between plants, sediments, nutrients and flooding were investigated with particular attention to mechanisms that keep marshes in equilibrium with sea level. Other data collected as part of the project include aboveground macrophyte biomass, plant density, marsh surface elevation and annual above ground primary productivity. These data have been used to develop the Marsh Equilibrium Model, an important tool for coastal resource managers. Sampling occurred at Spartina alterniflora-dominated salt marsh sites in North Inlet, a relatively pristine estuary near Georgetown, SC on the SE coast of the United States. North Inlet is a tidally-dominated, bar-built estuary, with a semi-diurnal mixed tide and a tidal range of 1.4m. The 25-km2 estuary is comprised of about 20.5 km2 of intertidal salt marsh and mudflats, and 4.5 km2 of open water. Sampling began at two locations in December 1993, and at three additional locations in January 1994. Sampling occurred approximately monthly at these 5 locations through 2023. Sampling occurred at a sixth location from 2006 to 2010. The site was a dieback site that had recovered by 2010. At the other sites, the study is on-going. Porewater was collected at multiple depths from diffusion samplers and was analyzed for sulfide, salinity, ammonium, phosphate, and iron concentrations. There are five sampling locations at three sites. Two locations are in the low marsh; three locations are in the high marsh. One high marsh location had control sampling plots in addition to plots fertilized with nitrogen and phosphorus. 
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  4. Aboveground biomass and plant density were measured non-destructively as a component of a long-term project seeking to understand how salt marsh primary production and sediment chemistry respond to anthropogenic (e.g. eutrophication) and natural (e.g. sea-level rise) environmental change. Feedbacks between plants, sediments, nutrients and flooding were investigated with particular attention to mechanisms that keep marshes in equilibrium with sea level. Biomass was calculated from plant height measurements using allometric equations. Annual productivity was calculated from approximately-monthly biomass estimates. In addition to plant height measurements, observations of snails in sample plots were recorded. Other data collected as part of the project include marsh surface elevation and porewater nutrient concentrations. These data have been used to develop the Marsh Equilibrium Model, an important tool for coastal resource managers. Sampling occurred at Spartina alterniflora-dominated salt marsh sites in North Inlet, a relatively pristine estuary near Georgetown, SC on the SE coast of the United States. North Inlet is a tidally-dominated, bar-built estuary, with a semi-diurnal mixed tide and a tidal range of 1.4m. The 25-km2 estuary is comprised of about 20.5 km2 of intertidal salt marsh and mudflats, and 4.5 km2 of open water. Sampling began at one location in 1984, and at three additional locations in 1986. Sampling occurred approximately monthly through 2022. The study is on-going. There are four sampling locations at two sites. Two locations are in the low marsh; two locations are in the high marsh. One high marsh location had control sampling plots in addition to plots fertilized with nitrogen and phosphorus. 
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  5. Marsh elevation was measured with a Surface Elevation Table (SET) as a component of a long-term project seeking to understand how salt marsh primary production and sediment chemistry respond to anthropogenic (e.g. eutrophication) and natural (e.g. sea-level rise) environmental change. Feedbacks between plants, sediments, nutrients and flooding were investigated with particular attention to mechanisms that keep marshes in equilibrium with sea level. Other data collected as part of the project include aboveground annual primary productivity, plant biomass, plant density and porewater nutrient concentrations. These data have been used to develop the Marsh Equilibrium Model, an important tool for coastal resource managers. Sampling occurred at 7 Spartina alterniflora-dominated salt marsh sites in North Inlet, a relatively pristine estuary near Georgetown, SC on the SE coast of the United States. North Inlet is a tidally-dominated, bar-built estuary, with a semi-diurnal mixed tide and a tidal range of 1.4m. The 25-km2 estuary is comprised of about 20.5 km2 of intertidal salt marsh and mudflats, and 4.5 km2 of open water. Marsh elevation sampling began in 1990, 1991, 1996 or 2000, depending on the site. Sampling occurred approximately monthly or approximately annually through 2022. The study is on-going. Additionally, some plots were fertilized with nitrogen and phosphorus. 
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  6. Quantitative, broadly applicable metrics of resilience are needed to effectively manage tidal marshes into the future. Here we quantified three metrics of temporal marsh resilience: time to marsh drowning, time to marsh tipping point, and the probability of a regime shift, defined as the conditional probability of a transition to an alternative super-optimal, suboptimal, or drowned state. We used organic matter content (loss on ignition, LOI) and peat age combined with the Coastal Wetland Equilibrium Model (CWEM) to track wetland development and resilience under different sea-level rise scenarios in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) of California. A 100-year hindcast of the model showed excellent agreement ( R 2 = 0.96) between observed (2.86 mm/year) and predicted vertical accretion rates (2.98 mm/year) and correctly predicted a recovery in LOI ( R 2 = 0.76) after the California Gold Rush. Vertical accretion in the tidal freshwater marshes of the Delta is dominated by organic production. The large elevation range of the vegetation combined with high relative marsh elevation provides Delta marshes with resilience and elevation capital sufficiently great to tolerate centenary sea-level rise (CLSR) as high as 200 cm. The initial relative elevation of a marsh was a strong determinant of marsh survival time and tipping point. For a Delta marsh of average elevation, the tipping point at which vertical accretion no longer keeps up with the rate of sea-level rise is 50 years or more. Simulated, triennial additions of 6 mm of sediment via episodic atmospheric rivers increased the proportion of marshes surviving from 51% to 72% and decreased the proportion drowning from 49% to 28%. Our temporal metrics provide critical time frames for adaptively managing marshes, restoring marshes with the best chance of survival, and seizing opportunities for establishing migration corridors, which are all essential for safeguarding future habitats for sensitive species. 
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  9. Coastal salt marshes are biologically productive ecosystems that generate and sequester significant quantities of organic matter. Plant biomass varies spatially within a salt marsh and it is tedious and often logistically impractical to quantify biomass from field measurements across an entire landscape. Satellite data are useful for estimating aboveground biomass, however, high-resolution data are needed to resolve the spatial details within a salt marsh. This study used 3-m resolution multispectral data provided by Planet to estimate aboveground biomass within two salt marshes, North Inlet-Winyah Bay (North Inlet) National Estuary Research Reserve, and Plum Island Ecosystems (PIE) Long-Term Ecological Research site. The Akaike information criterion analysis was performed to test the fidelity of several alternative models. A combination of the modified soil vegetation index 2 (MSAVI2) and the visible difference vegetation index (VDVI) gave the best fit to the square root-normalized biomass data collected in the field at North Inlet (Willmott’s index of agreement d = 0.74, RMSE = 223.38 g/m2, AICw = 0.3848). An acceptable model was not found among all models tested for PIE data, possibly because the sample size at PIE was too small, samples were collected over a limited vertical range, in a different season, and from areas with variable canopy architecture. For North Inlet, a model-derived landscape scale biomass map showed differences in biomass density among sites, years, and showed a robust relationship between elevation and biomass. The growth curve established in this study is particularly useful as an input for biogeomorphic models of marsh development. This study showed that, used in an appropriate model with calibration, Planet data are suitable for computing and mapping aboveground biomass at high resolution on a landscape scale, which is needed to better understand spatial and temporal trends in salt marsh primary production. 
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