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Sedimentological and radiochemical characteristics of marsh deposits from Assateague Island and the adjacent vicinity, Maryland and Virginia, following Hurricane Sandy

September 15, 2015

The effect of tropical and extratropical cyclones on coastal wetlands and marshes is highly variable and depends on a number of climatic, geologic, and physical variables. The impacts of storms can be either positive or negative with respect to the wetland and marsh ecosystems. Small to moderate amounts of inorganic sediment added to the marsh surface during storms or other events help to abate pressure from sea-level rise. However, if the volume of sediment is large and the resulting deposits are thick, the organic substrate may compact causing submergence and a loss in elevation. Similarly, thick deposits of coarse inorganic sediment may also alter the hydrology of the site and impede vegetative processes. Alternative impacts associated with storms include shoreline erosion at the marsh edge as well as potential emergence. Evaluating the outcome of these various responses and potential long-term implications is possible from a systematic assessment of both historical and recent event deposits. A study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey to assess the sedimentological and radiochemical characteristics of marsh deposits from Assateague Island and areas around Chincoteague Bay, Maryland and Virginia, following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The objectives of this study were to (1) characterize the surficial sediment of the relict to recent washover fans and back-barrier marshes in the study area, and (2) characterize the sediment of six marsh cores from the back-barrier marshes and a single marsh island core near the mainland. These geologic data will be integrated with other remote sensing data collected along Assateague Island in Maryland and Virginia and assimilated into an assessment of coastal wetland response to storms.

This report serves as an archive for sedimentological and radiochemical data derived from the surface sediments and marsh cores collected March 26–April 4, 2014. Select surficial data are available for the additional sampling periods October 21–30, 2014. Downloadable data are available as Excel spreadsheets and as JPEG files. Additional files include: Field documentation, x-radiographs, photographs, detailed results of sediment grain size analyses, and formal Federal Geographic Data Committee metadata (data downloads).