Unstable Pore-Water Flow in Intertidal Wetlands

Salt marshes are important intertidal wetlands strongly influenced by interactions between surface water and groundwater. Bordered by coastal water, the marsh system undergoes cycles of inundation and exposure driven by the tide. This leads to dynamic, complex pore-water flow and solute transport in the marsh soil. Pore-water circulations occur over vastly different spatial and temporal scales with strong link to the marsh topography. These circulations control solute transport between the marsh soil and the tidal creek, and ultimately affect the overall nutrient exchange between the marsh and coastal water. The pore-water flows also dictate the soil condition, particularly aeration, which influences the marsh plant growth. Numerous studies have been carried out to examine the pore-water flow process in the marsh soil driven by tides, focusing on stable flow with the assumption of homogeneity in soil and fluid properties. This assumption, however, is questionable given the actual inhomogeneous conditions in the field. For example, the salinity of surface water in the tidal creek varies temporally and spatially due to the influence of rainfall and evapotranspiration as well as the freshwater input from upland areas to the estuary, creating density gradients across the marsh surface and within the marsh soil. Many marshes possess soil stratigraphy with low-permeability mud typically overlying high-permeability sandy deposits. Macropores such as crab burrows are commonly distributed in salt marsh sediments. All these conditions are prone to the development of non-uniform, unstable preferential pore-water flow in the marsh soil, for example, funnelling and fingering. Here we present results from laboratory experiments and numerical simulations to explore such unstable flow. In particular, the analysis aims to address how the unstable flow modifies patterns of local pore-water movement and solute transport, as well as the overall exchange between the marsh soil and creek water. The changes would influence not only the marsh soil condition for plant growth but also nutrient cycling in the marsh soil and discharge to the coastal sea.

Presented at:
American Geophysical Union's 47th annual Fall Meeting, San Francisco, California, USA, December 15-19, 2014

 Record created 2015-01-19, last modified 2018-03-17

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