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Peat decomposition and erosion contribute to pond deepening in a temperate salt marsh

January 30, 2023

Salt marsh ponds expand and deepen over time, potentially reducing ecosystem carbon storage and resilience. The water filled volumes of ponds represent missing carbon due to prevented soil accumulation and removal by erosion and decomposition. Removal mechanisms have different implications as eroded carbon can be redistributed while decomposition results in loss. We constrained ponding effects on carbon dynamics in a New England marsh and determined whether expansion and deepening impact nearby soils by conducting geochemical characterizations of cores from three ponds and surrounding high marshes and models of wind-driven erosion. Radioisotope profiles demonstrate that ponds are not depositional environments and that contemporaneous marsh accretion represents prevented accumulation accounting for 32%–42% of the missing carbon. Erosion accounted for 0%–38% and was bracketed using radioisotope inventories and wind-driven resuspension models. Decomposition, calculated by difference, removes 22%–68%, and when normalized over pond lifespans, produces rates that agree with previous metabolism measurements. Pond surface soils contain new contributions from submerged primary producers and evidence of microbial alteration of underlying peat, as higher levels of detrital biomarkers and thermal stability indices, compared to the marsh. Below pond surface horizons, soil properties and organic matter composition were similar to the marsh, indicating that ponding effects are shallow. Soil bulk density, elemental content, and accretion rates were similar between marsh sites but different from ponds, suggesting that lateral effects are spatially confined. Consequently, ponds negatively impact ecosystem carbon storage but at current densities are not causing pervasive degradation of marshes in this system.

Publication Year 2023
Title Peat decomposition and erosion contribute to pond deepening in a temperate salt marsh
DOI 10.1029/2022JG007063
Authors Sheron Luk, Meagan J. Eagle, Giulio Mariotti, Kelsey Gosselin, Jonathan Sanderman, Amanda C. Spivak
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biogeosciences
Index ID 70242920
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center