Journal article

Landscape evolution in tidal embayments: Modeling the interplay of erosion, sedimentation, and vegetation dynamics

We propose an ecomorphodynamic model which conceptualizes the chief land-forming processes operating on the intertwined, long-term evolution of marsh platforms and embedded tidal networks. The rapid network incision (previously addressed by the authors) is decoupled from the geomorphological dynamics of intertidal areas, governed by sediment erosion and deposition and crucially affected by the presence of vegetation. This allows us to investigate the response of tidal morphologies to different scenarios of sediment supply, colonization by halophytes, and changing sea level. Different morphological evolutionary regimes are shown to depend on marsh ecology. Marsh accretion rates, enhanced by vegetation growth, and the related platform elevations tend to decrease with distance from the creek, measured along suitably defined flow paths. The negative feedback between surface elevation and its inorganic accretion rate is reinforced by the relation between plant productivity and soil elevation in Spartina-dominated marshes and counteracted by positive feedbacks in multispecies-vegetated marshes. When evolving under constant sea level, unvegetated and Spartina-dominated marshes asymptotically tend to mean high water level (MHWL), different from multiple vegetation species marshes, which can make the evolutionary transition to upland. Equilibrium configurations below MHWL can be reached under constant rates of sea level rise, depending on sediment supply and vegetation productivity. Our analyses on marine regressions and transgressions show that when the system is in a supply-limited regime, network retreat and expansion (associated with regressions and transgressions, respectively) tend to be cyclic. Conversely, in a transport-limited regime, network reexpansion following a regression tends to take on a new configuration, showing a hysteretic behavior. Copyright 2007 by the American Geophysical Union.


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