Sediment Accumulation Rates and Submersed Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Distributions in the Mesohaline Chesapeake Bay, USA
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This study assesses spatial and temporal sedimentological trends in four mesohaline Chesapeake Bay submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitats, two with persistent SAV beds and two with ephemeral SAV beds, to determine their relationship to current and historical sediment characteristics—grain size, organic content, and accumulation rates. In general, grain size is similar among all sites, and subsurface sediment differs from surficial sediment only at one site where a thin surficial sand layer (∼2–3 cm) is present. This thin sand layer is not completely preserved in the longer-term sedimentary record even though it is critical to determining whether the sediment is suitable for SAV. Evidence for nearshore fining, similar to that observed in the deeper waters of the Bay, is present at the site where the shoreline has been hardened suggesting that locations with hardened shorelines limit exchange of coarser (sandy) material between the shore and nearshore environments. Whether the fining trend will continue to a point at which the sediment will become unsuitable for SAV in the future or whether some new type of equilibrium will be reached cannot be addressed with our data. Instead, our data suggest that SAV presence/absence is related to changes in sedimentary characteristics—persistent beds have relatively steady sediment composition, while ephemeral beds have finer sediments due to reduced sand input. Additionally, sediment accumulation rates in the persistent beds are ∼9 mm/year, whereas rates in the ephemeral beds are ∼3 mm/year. Thus, the ephemeral sites highlight two potential sedimentary controls on SAV distribution: the presence of a sufficiently thick surficial sand layer as previously postulated by Wicks (2005) and accumulation rates high enough to bury seeds prior to germination and/or keep up with sea-level rise.
KeywordsSediment Seagrass SAV Chesapeake Bay Sea-level rise 210Pb Nearshore
The authors would like to thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office (award NA07NMF4570344) for funding this study. We also thank Dale Booth for invaluable field and laboratory assistance, as well as Caroline Baumgartner and Taylor Robinson for generating some of the data shown. We gratefully acknowledge the comments of three anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly improved this manuscript. This is UMCES contribution #4634.
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