Comparing Wetland Elevation Change Using a Surface Elevation Table, Digital Level, and Total Station

James C. Lynch, Neil Winn, Katya Kovalenko, Glenn Guntenspergen

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1 Scopus citations


The surface elevation table (SET) approach and two survey instruments, a digital level (DL) and a total station (TS), were used to evaluate elevation change at a 1-ha, micro-tidal, back-barrier salt marsh at Assateague Island National Seashore (Berlin, MD, USA) from 2016 to 2022. SET data were collected at 3 sampling stations along the perimeter of the plot, 36 pins per station, and the DL and TS data were collected adjacent to 36 stakes, four readings per stake, throughout the plot. The average elevation range of the marsh surface measurements at the SET stations was 2 cm, while the range was considerably greater within the larger 1-ha DL and TS sampling area (24 cm). The average elevation of the marsh surface only varied by 2 cm among the three methods. Elevation change trends of the three methods ranged from 2.8 to 3.5 mm year−1 and were not significantly different from each other. Despite differences in sample size and spatial distribution of measurements, these methods provided comparable measures of long-term trends in marsh surface elevation probably because the marsh at this site was structurally homogeneous with low topographic relief.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks are extended to the staff at Assateague Island National Seashore for providing field support over the course of this study, with special acknowledgement to Bill Hulslander and Lauren Kramer. Additional thanks to Philippe Hensel and Galen Scott from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for their help with the early design and conceptual issues for this study. Charles Roman is thanked for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. GRG and KEK acknowledge support from the US Geological Survey, Climate Research and Development Program, and Ecosystem Mission Area. The findings and conclusions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Park Service. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, This is a U.S. Government work and not under copyright protection in the US; foreign copyright protection may apply.


  • Barrier island (Assateague Island, MD)
  • Digital level
  • Elevation change
  • Salt marsh
  • Surface elevation table
  • Total station


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