Sediment transport-based metrics of wetland stability

Neil K. Ganju, Matthew L. Kirwan, Patrick J. Dickhudt, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Donald R. Cahoon, Kevin D. Kroeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Despite the importance of sediment availability on wetland stability, vulnerability assessments seldom consider spatiotemporal variability of sediment transport. Models predict that the maximum rate of sea level rise a marsh can survive is proportional to suspended sediment concentration (SSC) and accretion. In contrast, we find that SSC and accretion are higher in an unstable marsh than in an adjacent stable marsh, suggesting that these metrics cannot describe wetland vulnerability. Therefore, we propose the flood/ebb SSC differential and organic-inorganic suspended sediment ratio as better vulnerability metrics. The unstable marsh favors sediment export (18 mg L-1 higher on ebb tides), while the stable marsh imports sediment (12 mg L-1 higher on flood tides). The organic-inorganic SSC ratio is 84% higher in the unstable marsh, and stable isotopes indicate a source consistent with marsh-derived material. These simple metrics scale with sediment fluxes, integrate spatiotemporal variability, and indicate sediment sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7992-8000
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 16 2015

Bibliographical note

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© 2015. The Authors.


  • sediment transport
  • tidal wetlands
  • wetland stability
  • wetland vulnerability


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