Article

Estuaries

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 636-647

First online:

Impacts of sea-level rise on deltas in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean: The importance of pulsing events to sustainability

  • John W. DayAffiliated withDepartment of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences Coastal Ecology Institute, Louisiana State University
  • , Didier PontAffiliated withEquipe DESMID Laboratoire d’Ecologie, CNRS URA 1974
  • , Philippe F. HenselAffiliated withDepartment of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences Coastal Ecology Institute, Louisiana State University
  • , Carlès IbañezAffiliated withDepartmento d’Ecologia, Universitat de Barcelona

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Abstract

In deltas, subsidence leads to a relative sea-level rise (RSLR) that is often much greater than eustatic rise alone. Because of high RSLR, deltaic wetlands will be affected early by an acceleration of eustatic sea-level rise. If there is sufficient vertical accretion, wetlands can continue to exist with RSLR; however, lack of sediment input eventually leads to excessive water logging and plant death. Areas with low tidal range, such as the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico, are especially vulnerable to rising water levels because the elevational growth range of coastal vegetation is related to tide range. Reduction of suspended sediments in rivers and prevention of wetland flooding by river dikes and impoundments have reduced sediment input to Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico deltaic wetlands. This sediment deficit will become more important with an acceleration in sea-level rise from global warming. Most sediment input occurs during strong pulsing events such as river floods and storms, and management policies and decisions are especially designed to protect against such events. Management approaches must be reoriented to take advantage of pulsing events to nourish marsh surfaces with sediments. We hypothesize that deltas can be managed to withstand significant rates of sea-level rise by taking advantage of pulsing events leading to high sediment input, and that this type of management approach will enhance ecosystem functioning.