Salt Marsh Response to Sea Level Rise

Salt marshes are an important part of barrier systems. The ability of salt marshes to keep pace with sea level rise is dependent on balances between rates of sediment accretion and subsidence, erosion and stabilization of slopes, as well as biomass and subsequent decomposition of organic matter. Broad scale processes such as change in sea level also affect the amount of incoming sediment and the ability of the salt marsh to incorporate sediment and continue to grow. As sea level continues to rise globally and coastal communities and ecosystems combat the adverse affects of the increasingly intruding tide, we wish to discover if salt marshes can keep pace with sea level rise. In 2017, multiples storms, including Hurricane Irma, made landfall on the eastern coasts of the United States. In my research, I will look at sediment from salt marshes in the geographic locations where Irma made landfall. Specifically, I seek to address the following scientific question: What thickness of sediment can be deposited on salt marshes by hurricane-related flooding, and how are salt marshes able to incorporate that sediment into their shallow stratigraphy?

On a broader scale, my research is connected to and partially funded by a RAPID proposal to the National Science Foundation from Professor Chris Hein of VIMS and his colleagues. The goal of their overall research, of which mine will be a smaller component, is to examine the impacts of Hurricane Irma and surficial storm deposits on coastal wetlands in the Atlantic Bight. With my research specifically, I am hoping to understand if salt marshes more directly impacted by intense storms will show thicker layers of relatively coarse sediment corresponding to the occurrence of storms. These units will also be characterized by lower organic matter content when compared to salt marshes that have seen less storm activity.

I would like to show my sincerest gratitude to the Charles Center and its generous donors for providing me with a grant to explore my research in-depth this summer. In addition, I would like to thank my research advisor Chris Hein and the rest of the WM Geology Department for cultivating my interest in research and guiding me in my pursuits.