, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 300–317

Accretion rates and sediment accumulation in Rhode Island salt marshes

  • S. Bricker-Urso
  • S. W. Nixon
  • J. K. Cochran
  • D. J. Hirschberg
  • C. Hunt


In order to test the assumption that accretion rates of intertidal salt marshes are approximately equal to rates of sea-level rise along the Rhode Island coast,210Pb analyses were carried out and accretion rates calculated using constant flux and constant activity models applied to sediment cores collected from lowSpartina alterniflora marshes at four sites from the head to the mouth of Narragansett Bay. A core was also collected from a highSpartina patens marsh at one site. Additional low marsh cores from a tidal river entering the bay and a coastal lagoon on Block Island Sound were also analyzed. Accretion rates for all cores were also calculated from copper concentration data assuming that anthropogenic copper increases began at all sites between 1865 and 1885. Bulk density and weight-loss-on-ignition of the sediments were measured in order to assess the relative importance of inorganic and organic accumulation. During the past 60 yr, accretion rates at the eight low marsh sites averaged 0.43±0.13 cm yr−1 (0.25 to 0.60 cm yr−1) based on the constant flux model, 0.40±0.15 cm yr−1 (0.15 to 0.58 cm yr−1) based on the constant activity model, and 0.44±0.11 cm yr−1 (0.30 to 0.59 cm yr−1) based on copper concentration data, with no apparent trend down-bay. High marsh rates were 0.24±0.02 (constant flux), 0.25±0.01 (constant activity), and 0.47±0.04 (copper concentration data). The cores showing closest agreement between the three methods are those for which the excess210Pb inventories are consistent with atmospheric inputs. These rates compare to a tide gauge record from the mouth of the bay that shows an average sea-level rise of 0.26±0.02 cm yr−1 from 1931 to 1986. Low marshes in this area appear to accrete at rates 1.5–1.7 times greater than local relative sea-level rise, while the high marsh accretion rate is equal to the rise in sea level. The variability among the low marsh sites suggests that marshes may not be poised at mean water level to within better than ±several cm on time scales of decades. Inorganic and organic dry solids each contributed about 9% by volume to low marsh accretion, while organic dry solids contributed 11% and inorganic 4% to high marsh accretion. Water/pore space accounted for the majority of accretion in both low and high marshes. If water associated with the organic component is considered, organic matter accounts for an average of 91% of low marsh and 96% of high marsh accretion. A dramatic increase in the organic content at a depth of 60 to 90 cm in the cores from Narragansett Bay appears to mark the start of marsh development on prograding sand flats.


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Copyright information

© Estuarine Research Federation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Bricker-Urso
    • 1
  • S. W. Nixon
    • 1
  • J. K. Cochran
    • 2
  • D. J. Hirschberg
    • 2
  • C. Hunt
    • 3
  1. 1.Graduate School of OceanographyUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansett
  2. 2.Marine Sciences Research CenterState University of New YorkStony Brook
  3. 3.Battelle Ocean SciencesDuxbury

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