Numerical models of salt marsh evolution: Ecological, geomorphic, and climatic factors

Sergio Fagherazzi, Matthew L. Kirwan, Simon M. Mudd, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Stijn Temmerman, Andrea D'Alpaos, Johan Van De Koppel, John M. Rybczyk, Enrique Reyes, Chris Craft, Jonathan Clough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

543 Scopus citations


Salt marshes are delicate landforms at the boundary between the sea and land. These ecosystems support a diverse biota that modifies the erosive characteristics of the substrate and mediates sediment transport processes. Here we present a broad overview of recent numerical models that quantify the formation and evolution of salt marshes under different physical and ecological drivers. In particular, we focus on the coupling between geomorphological and ecological processes and on how these feedbacks are included in predictive models of landform evolution. We describe in detail models that simulate fluxes of water, organic matter, and sediments in salt marshes. The interplay between biological and morphological processes often produces a distinct scarp between salt marshes and tidal flats. Numerical models can capture the dynamics of this boundary and the progradation or regression of the marsh in time. Tidal channels are also key features of the marsh landscape, flooding and draining the marsh platform and providing a source of sediments and nutrients to the marsh ecosystem. In recent years, several numerical models have been developed to describe the morphogenesis and long-term dynamics of salt marsh channels. Finally, salt marshes are highly sensitive to the effects of long-term climatic change. We therefore discuss in detail how numerical models have been used to determine salt marsh survival under different scenarios of sea level rise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberRG1002
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


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