The Role of Surface and Subsurface Processes in Keeping Pace with Sea Level Rise in Intertidal Wetlands of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia

Research paper by Catherine E. Lovelock, Vicki Bennion, Alistair Grinham, Donald R. Cahoon

Indexed on: 13 May '11Published on: 13 May '11Published in: Ecosystems (New York, N.Y.)


Increases in the elevation of the soil surfaces of mangroves and salt marshes are key to the maintenance of these habitats with accelerating sea level rise. Understanding the processes that give rise to increases in soil surface elevation provides science for management of landscapes for sustainable coastal wetlands. Here, we tested whether the soil surface elevation of mangroves and salt marshes in Moreton Bay is keeping up with local rates of sea level rise (2.358 mm y−1) and whether accretion on the soil surface was the most important process for keeping up with sea level rise. We found variability in surface elevation gains, with sandy areas in the eastern bay having the highest surface elevation gains in both mangrove and salt marsh (5.9 and 1.9 mm y−1) whereas in the muddier western bay rates of surface elevation gain were lower (1.4 and −0.3 mm y−1 in mangrove and salt marsh, respectively). Both sides of the bay had similar rates of surface accretion (~7–9 mm y−1 in the mangrove and 1–3 mm y−1 in the salt marsh), but mangrove soils in the western bay were subsiding at a rate of approximately 8 mm y−1, possibly due to compaction of organic sediments. Over the study surface elevation increments were sensitive to position in the intertidal zone (higher when lower in the intertidal) and also to variation in mean sea level (higher at high sea level). Although surface accretion was the most important process for keeping up with sea level rise in the eastern bay, subsidence largely negated gains made through surface accretion in the western bay indicating a high vulnerability to sea level rise in these forests.