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Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 385–394 | Cite as

Effects of shoreline hardening on nitrogen processing in estuarine marshes of the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast

  • Theresa O’MearaEmail author
  • Suzanne P. Thompson
  • Michael F. Piehler
Original Paper

Abstract

Multiple stressors affect estuarine shorelines including erosion, sea level rise and impacts from human development of adjacent lands. Increasingly common features of coastal development are vertical shoreline stabilization structures such as bulkheads. Bulkheads are designed to prevent land loss and flooding through the construction of a vertical wall anchored to the land. However, they break the connection between land and water and are barriers to upland plant migration. This disconnect can affect hydrology, alter nutrient and sediment supplies, and lead to marsh loss. We measured the effects of bulkheads on sediment nitrogen fluxes, including denitrification (DEN), at three representative estuarine shoreline types: natural marsh (no bulkhead), bulkhead without marsh, and bulkheads with marshes of varying widths. Sediment cores were taken mid-marsh or, 2 m seaward of bulkhead in sites lacking marsh in northern, central and southern coastal regions of North Carolina. Concentrations of N2 and O2 were measured using a membrane inlet mass spectrometer. In addition, sediment organic matter and inorganic nitrogen concentrations were quantified. Average DEN rate was 93.1 ± 7.0 µmol N m−2 h−1 with the highest rates in the summer and lowest rates in the winter. Sediment oxygen demand was positively correlated with DEN rate (R2 = 0.43, p < 0.01), which suggests that DEN is affected by carbon lability. DEN was not affected by bulkhead presence (R2 = 0.01, p = 0.52), but marsh presence significantly affected yearly DEN rates (R2 = 0.13, p < 0.01). These data indicate that bulkheads do not directly affect nitrogen processing, but indirectly reduce cycling rates through marsh loss.

Keywords

Shoreline hardening Nitrogen cycling Denitrification Marsh 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Corey Adams, Rebecca Schwartz, Kaylyn Siporin, and Ashley Smyth for their assistance in both the field and laboratory, as well as, Dr. John Fear for editing this manuscript.

Funding

Funding for this project was provided by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET).

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theresa O’Meara
    • 1
    Email author
  • Suzanne P. Thompson
    • 1
  • Michael F. Piehler
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Marine SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillMorehead CityUSA

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