Soil in the Succotash Marsh, Rhode Island: Coring for clues to past coastal storms

When you think of a saltmarsh, what comes to mind? Maybe a place that smells bad and you prefer to avoid? A place to fish? Turns out, salt marshes hold clues to the past. Scientists along the East Coast of the United States, for example, can use the information in salt marsh soils to reconstruct past storms and determine the past sea levels. As scientists in Rhode Island, we were able to easily try and replicate the findings of a previously published study from the Succotash Marsh also located in Rhode Island.

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How can we help salt marshes recover after an oil spill?

Salt marshes impacted by oil spills (like Deepwater Horizon) often experience vegetation diebacks and a loss of ecosystem function. Researchers recently found that re-establishing the dominant salt marsh vegetation, Spartina alterniflora, is critical to ensure and enhance the presence of other marsh animals. Unexpectedly, the addition of fertilizer had little to no effect on the recolonization of salt marsh critters.

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Salt marsh and mangroves are equally vulnerable to sea level rise

Mangroves have extended their range as a result of climate change and have established in areas that were previously salt marshes. Both mangrove stands and salt marshes act as buffers against coastal storms. Studies have suggested that mangroves and salt marshes have the ability to cope with global sea level rise by increasing local elevation through trapping soil and expanding their root structure. A recent study in the Mississippi River Delta reports that black mangroves and salt marsh plants have similar abilities to build sediment in coastal areas, but the rate of elevation increase is still lower than sea level rise. Therefore, both salt marsh and mangrove-dominated habitats of the Mississippi River Delta are at risk from sea level rise.

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