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Coastal and Estuarine Studies




Dynamics of tidal salt barren formation and the record of present-day sea level change

Y. P. Hsieh

Tidal salt barrens are hypersaline non-vegetative bands found in the midst of lush coastal marshes. The cause of tidal salt barren formation has not been reported and its significance not examined. In this chapter, I present observations on the vegetation, pore-water salinity, soil temperature, groundwater table and soil organic matter profile of a tidal salt barren in a Juncus marsh of northwestern Florida. The results suggest that tidal salt barrens are formed through a sequential event of coupled physical and biological processes involving topography, tide, salinity, climate and vegetation. The study shows that the tidal salt barren formation is an active process in that their upper and lower boundaries move landward in response to the rising mean high water (MHW) level. The inferred theory of tidal salt barren formation predicts that 1) Tidal salt barrens are likely to be found in tide-dominated salt marshes where salinity of the incoming tide is high and climate is warm. 2) Tidal salt barrens are confined to the salinity maximum band created by tidal action. 3) The MHW level ultimately dictates the position of a tidal salt barren, i.e., tidal salt barrens should run parallel to the contour of the coast. The soil organic matter (SOM) depletion and accumulation gradients associated with a tidal salt barren formation record the direction and rate of sea level change in the last 100-150 y. The SOM gradients also provide a special opportunity for studying the progressive development of salt marsh and SOM dynamics in coastal environments.

Citation: Hsieh, Y. P. (2004), Dynamics of tidal salt barren formation and the record of present-day sea level change, in The Ecogeomorphology of Tidal Marshes, Coastal Estuarine Stud., vol. 59, edited by S. Fagherazzi, M. Marani, and L. K. Blum, pp. 231–245, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/CE059p0231.

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