Communications Earth & Environment

Vertical accretion trends project doughnut-like fragmentation of saltmarshes

Feb 9, 2024

Author(s): Christopher J. Hein, Jennifer E. Connell, Duncan M. FitzGerald, Zoe J. Hughes, Kendall King

Coastal saltmarshes keep pace with sea-level rise through in-situ production of organic material and incorporation of allochthonous inorganic sediment. Here we report rates of vertical accretion of 16 new sediment cores collected proximal to platform edges within saltmarshes located behind four barrier islands along the southeast United States coast. All but two of these exceed the contemporaneous rate of relative sea-level rise, often by a factor of 1.5 or more. Comparison with 80 additional measurements compiled across the Georgia Bight reveals that marshes situated closer to inlets and large bays generally accrete faster than those adjacent to small creeks or within platform interiors. These results demonstrate a spatial dichotomy in the resilience of backbarrier saltmarshes: marsh interiors are near a tipping point, but allochthonous mineral sediment fluxes allow enhanced local resilience along well-exposed and platform-edge marshes. Together, this suggests that backbarrier marshes are trending towards rapid, doughnut-like fragmentation. Paper here.