Rapid Tidal Marsh Development in Anthropogenic Backwaters

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Brian Yellen , Jonathon Woodruff, David Ralston , Caroline Ladlow, Sarah Fernald, Waverly Lau


Tidal marsh restoration and creation has been proposed as a tool to build coastal resilience in the face of rising sea level and increasing intensity of coastal storms. However, it is unclear what conditions within constructed settings will lead to the successful establishment of tidal marsh. We used sediment cores and historical geospatial data in the tidal freshwater Hudson River to identify the rapid creation and development of marshes that are sheltered by human-made structures including railroad berms, jetties, and dredge spoil islands. These backwater areas rapidly accumulated clastic material following anthropogenic modification that allowed for transition from tidal mudflat to emergent marsh. In one case, historical aerial photos document this transition occurring in less than 18 years, offering a timeframe for marsh development. Accretion rates for anthropogenic tidal marshes and mudflats average 0.8-1.1 cm yr-1 and 0.6-0.7 cm yr-1 respectively, equivalent to 2-3 times the rate of relative sea level rise as well as the observed accretion rate at a 6000+ year old reference marsh in the study area. Paired historical and geospatial analysis revealed that more than half of all the tidal wetlands on the Hudson are anthropogenic and developed since the industrial era, including two thirds of the emergent cattail marsh. These inadvertently constructed tidal wetlands currently trap roughly 6% of the Hudson River’s sediment load. Results indicate that when sediment is readily available freshwater tidal wetlands can develop relatively rapidly in sheltered estuarine settings, and serve as useful examples to help guide future tidal marsh creation and restoration efforts.




Earth Sciences, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Sciences, Fresh Water Studies, Geomorphology, Oceanography, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Sustainability, Water Resource Management


Sea level rise, Estuaries, Hudson River, Marsh restoration, Tidal marsh


Published: 2020-03-21 22:19

Last Updated: 2020-10-26 19:52

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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