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Modeling marsh dynamics using a 3-D coupled wave-flow-sediment model

November 2, 2021

Salt marshes are dynamic biogeomorphic systems that respond to external physical factors, including tides, sediment transport, and waves, as well as internal processes such as autochthonous soil formation. Predicting the fate of marshes requires a modeling framework that accounts for these processes in a coupled fashion. In this study, we implement two new marsh dynamic processes in the 3-D COAWST (coupled-ocean-atmosphere-wave sediment transport) model. The processes added are the erosion of the marsh edge scarp caused by lateral wave thrust from surface waves and vertical accretion driven by organic growth on the marsh platform. The sediment released from the marsh causes a change in bathymetry, thereby modifying the wave-energy reaching the marsh edge. Marsh vertical accretion due to biomass production is considered for a single vegetation species and is determined by the hydroperiod parameters (tidal datums) and the elevation of the marsh cells. Tidal datums are stored at user-defined intervals as a hindcast (on the order of days) and used to update the vertical growth formulation. Idealized domains are utilized to verify the lateral wave thrust formulation and show the dynamics of lateral wave erosion leading to horizontal retreat of marsh edge. The simulations of Reedy and Dinner Creeks within the Barnegat Bay estuary system demonstrate the model capability to account for both lateral wave erosion and vertical accretion due to organic growth in a realistic marsh complex. The simulations show that majority of accretion over the marsh complex occurs due to organic production while most estuarine sediment deposition occurs along the channel edges. The ability of the model to capture the fate of the sediment can be extended to model future storm and relative sea level rise (RSLR) scenarios.