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Atmospheric river storm flooding influences tidal marsh elevation building processes

March 16, 2022

Disturbances are a key component of ecological processes in coastal ecosystems. Investigating factors that affect tidal marsh accretion and elevation change is important, largely due to accelerating sea-level rise and the ecological and economic value of wetlands. Sediment accumulation rates, elevation change, and flooding were examined at five marshes along a riverine-tidal gradient in the northern San Francisco Bay-Delta, California, USA during an Atmospheric River storm event in 2017 using Surface Elevation Tables (SETs), feldspar marker horizons (MH), and continuous water-level sensors. Our results showed that localized marsh flooding increased during the storm event, but not evenly across sites. Marsh surface elevation increased the most at the tidal freshwater marsh site in response to the storms, with an average surface elevation gain of 45.6 ± 13.1 mm, and the least at a tidal saline marsh with an average surface elevation gain of 4.0 ± 1.2 mm. A marsh located on the large embayment did not exhibit an immediate response to the storm but had a surface elevation gain of 21.5 ± 13.7 mm 6 months after the storm. During the storm period, marsh distance to the bay was the strongest predictor of elevation change, followed by SET-MH elevations. Conversely, during non-storm periods, SET-MH elevation was a relatively strong predictor of elevation change. Atmospheric Rivers appear to be a major factor affecting short-term spatial and temporal variability in flooding and sedimentation rates in tidal marsh systems. Incorporating information about storms into monitoring could increase our understanding of how episodic storms can impact marshes.

Publication Year 2022
Title Atmospheric river storm flooding influences tidal marsh elevation building processes
DOI 10.1029/2021JG006592
Authors Karen M. Thorne, Scott Jones, Chase M. Freeman, Kevin J. Buffington, Christopher N. Janousek, Glenn R. Guntenspergen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Index ID 70232522
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; Western Ecological Research Center