Temporal variation of accumulation rates on a natural salt marsh in the 20th century determined by 137Cs chronologies – the impact of sea level rise and increased inundation frequency

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Salt marshes are potentially threatened by sea level rise if sediment supply is unable to balance the rising sea. A rapid sea level rise is one of the pronounced effects of global warming and global sea level is at present rising at an elevated rate of about 3.4 mm y-1 on average. This increasing rate of sea level rise should make it possible to study the effect of rapidly rising sea level on salt marsh accumulation. However, such an understanding is generally hampered by lack of available data with sufficient precision. Here we present a
high-precision dataset based on detailed radiometric measurements of 137Cs in 10 sediment cores retrieved at a natural and unmanaged micro tidal salt marsh. Two distinct 137Cs-peaks were found in all cores, one peak corresponding to the 1963-maximum caused by testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere and the other to the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Salt marsh accretion has generally kept pace with sea level rise since 1963 but comparison of the accumulation rates of minerogenic material in the period 1963–1986 and 1986–2003 revealed a slight decrease in accumulation with time in spite of an observed increase in inundation frequency. The observed decrease in sediment deposition is significant and gives reason for concern as it may be the first
sign of a sedimentation deficiency which could be threatening this and other salt marshes in the case of a rapidly rising sea level. Our work demonstrates that the assumption of a constant relationship between salt marsh inundation and sediment deposition is not necessarily valid, even for a salt marsh that receives most of its allocthonous sediment from the adjacent sea. The apparent decrease in sediment deposition indicates that the basic assumption of sufficient sediment supply used in contemporary models dealing with salt marsh accretion is most probably not valid in the present case study and it may well be that this is also the case for many other salt marshes, especially if sea level continues to rise rapidly as indicated by some climate change scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number1-4
Pages (from-to)178-187
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2011

ID: 33954284