Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 2, pp 434–450 | Cite as

Sediment Deposition and Accretion Rates in Tidal Marshes Are Highly Variable Along Estuarine Salinity and Flooding Gradients

  • C. ButzeckEmail author
  • A. Eschenbach
  • A. Gröngröft
  • K. Hansen
  • S. Nolte
  • K. Jensen


Vertical accretion in estuarine marshes depends on rates of sediment deposition and is a complex function of different interacting variables. In times of climate change and associated sea-level rise, knowledge about the relation between these variables and sediment deposition and accretion rates is gaining high importance. Therefore, we studied spatial and temporal variation in short-term sediment deposition rates and its possible predictors in three marsh types along an estuarine salinity gradient. Between March 2010 and March 2011, bi-weekly sediment deposition was quantified along three transects, reflecting the variability in elevation (low to high marsh) and distance to the sediment source, in each of one tidal freshwater, brackish, and salt marsh at the Elbe Estuary (Germany). Simultaneously, water-level fluctuations and suspended sediment concentration (SSC) were recorded, and aboveground plant biomass was sampled once in late summer and once by the end of winter, respectively. Annual sediment deposition (17.5 ± 4.0 kg m−2) and calculated accretion rates (20.3 ± 4.7 mm year−1) were highest in the brackish low marsh and were between 51 and 71 % lower in the low tidal freshwater and the salt marsh, respectively. Highest SSC and longest inundations were found during fall and winter. Flooding duration and frequency were higher in the tidal freshwater than in the brackish and the salt marsh. Aboveground, plant biomass of the regularly flooded vegetation stratum (0–50 cm above soil surface) did not differ between marsh types, but the spatial pattern changed between late summer and early spring. In all three marsh types, decreasing sediment deposition rates with increasing distances from the sedimentation source were recorded. The applied multiple regression models were able to explain 74, 79, and 71 % of variation in sediment deposition patterns in tidal freshwater, brackish, and salt marshes, respectively. SSC was the most important model predictor variable. Our results emphasize the importance of considering spatial and temporal variations in sediment deposition rates and its predictors. According to our findings, sediment deposition rates in the investigated tidal low marshes of the Elbe Estuary seem to be sufficient to compensate moderate rates of sea-level rise. Contrastingly, high salt marshes might be vulnerable due to insufficient input of sediment and might regress into low marshes, partly.


Tidal freshwater marsh Brackish marsh Salt marsh Sediment deposition Accretion rates Suspended sediments Inundation Sea-level rise Germany Schleswig-Holstein Elbe Estuary (53° 40′ N; 9° 31′ E) 



The authors would like to thank all the students and colleagues; especially Melanie Griem, Theresa Martens and Janina Schnoor for their engagement in collecting and handling the sediment samples, Alena Lucht for collecting and analyzing the aboveground biomass, Sebastian Lindhorst and colleagues from the Institute of Geology and Paleontology (University of Hamburg) for processing the grain size analysis. We thank Martin Stock from the Schleswig-Holstein State Agency for Coastal Defence, National Park and Marine Conservation, the nature conservation authority of the District Pinneberg (Schleswig-Holstein), especially Uwe Helbing and Bernd-Ulrich Netz for administrative decision to work in the conservation areas. The work was funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research within the research project KLIMZUG-NORD and supported by the Estuary and Wetland Research Graduate School Hamburg (ESTRADE) as member of the State Excellence Initiative (LExI) funded by the Hamburg Science and Research Foundation. Additionally, we thank the handling editor and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Butzeck
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Eschenbach
    • 2
  • A. Gröngröft
    • 2
  • K. Hansen
    • 2
  • S. Nolte
    • 1
  • K. Jensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Applied Plant EcologyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Soil ScienceUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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