Estimating the potential for submergence for two wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta
- Cite this article as:
- Rybczyk, J.M. & Cahoon, D.R. Estuaries (2002) 25: 985. doi:10.1007/BF02691346
We used a combined field and modeling approach to estimate the potential for submergence for one rapidly deteriorating (Bayou Chitigue Marsh) and one apparently stable (Old Oyster Bayou Marsh) saltmarsh wetland in coastal Louisiana, given two eustatic sea level rise scenarios: the current rate (0.15 cm year−1); and the central value predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (48 cm by the year 2100). We also used the model to determine what processes were most critical for maintaining and influencing salt marsh elevation including, mineral matter deposition, organic matter production, shallow subsidence (organic matter decomposition + primary sediment compaction), deep subsidence, and sediment pulsing events (e.g., hurricanes). Eight years of field measurements from feldspar marker horizons and surface elevation tables revealed that the rates of vertical accretion at the Bayou Chitigue Marsh were high (2.26 (0.09) cm yr−1 (mean ± SE)) because the marsh exists at the lower end of the tidal range. The rate of shallow subsidence was also high (2.04 (0.1) cm yr−1), resulting in little net elevation gain (0.22 (0.06) cm yr−1). In contrast, vertical accretion at the Old Oyster Bayou Marsh, which is 10 cm higher in elevation, was 0.48 (0.09) cm yr−1. However, there was a net elevation gain of 0.36 (0.08) cm yr−1 because there was no significant shallow subsidence. When these rates of elevation gain were compared to rates of relative sea level rise (deep subsidence plus eustatic sea level rise), both sites showed a net elevation deficit although the Bayou Chitigue site was subsiding at approximately twice the rate of the Old Oyster Bayou site (1.1 cm yr−1 versus 0.49 cm yr−1 respectively). These field data were used to modify, initialize, and calibrate a previously published wetland soil development model that simulates primary production and mineral matter deposition as, feedback functions of elevation. Sensitivity analyses revealed that wetland elevation was most sensitive to changes in the rates of deep subsidence, a model forcing function that is difficult to measure in the field and for which estimates in the literature vary widely. The model also revealed that, given both the current rate of sea level rise and the central value estimate, surface elevation at both sites would fall below mean sea level over the next 100 years. Although these results were in agreement with the field study, they contradicted long term observations that the Old Oyster Bayou site has been in equilibrium with sea level for at least the past 50 years. Further simulations showed that the elevation at the Old Oyster Bayou site could keep pace with current rates of sea level rise if either a lower rate for deep subsidence was used as a forcing function, or if a periodic sediment pulsing function (e.g., from hurricanes) was programmed into the model.