Estuarine Processes Tidal Wetlands
Inundated marsh at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, New Jersey
Satellite image of Hurricane Sandy
Flood tidal shoal at Barnegat Inlet, New Jersey
Science Center Objects
Tidal wetlands are an important geomorphic and ecological feature of the coastal zone. Our projects deal with the physical forcings that affect wetland stability over event-to-annual timescales, including wave attack, sediment supply, and sea-level rise.
Tidal wetland complexes are geomorphic features composed of vegetated marsh plain, intertidal flats, and tidal channels. The stability of a tidal wetland complex is a function of interconnected biogeomorphic and physical processes. We are primarily studying the influence of sediment supply through tidal channels, wave attack on marsh faces, and feedbacks between vegetation and hydrodynamics.
Tidal channels deliver sediment to the vegetated subaerial marsh plain on high tides, which tends to increase the elevation of the marsh plain through time. Prior work suggests that marsh plains and channel networks develop simultaneously, moving toward an equilibrium condition where the net sediment flux through the channel network channels equals zero, and the transfer of sediment from channel to marsh platform balances sea level rise. Therefore, measurements of the concentration and flux of sediments through tidal channels represent a spatially integrated measure of marsh stability.
Recent work has highlighted the ephemeral nature of salt marshes, pointing out the balance between erosive forces and sediment supply. Wave attack on marsh faces is a primary erosive force, and causes marsh banks to slump, thereby liberating sediment from the marsh plain. Under low external sediment supply conditions, this leads to an overall landward migration of the marsh plain. We are exploring the connections between wave attack, marsh erosion, sediment supply, and ecosystem services through site-specific studies and larger scale syntheses of existing data.