Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 403–424 | Cite as

Controls on Sediment Suspension, Flux, and Marsh Deposition near a Bay-Marsh Boundary

  • Melissa S. DuvallEmail author
  • Patricia L. Wiberg
  • Matthew L. Kirwan


The sustainability of marshes adjacent to coastal bays is driven by the exchange of sediment across the marsh-bay boundary, where edge erosion commonly leads to lateral marsh loss and enhanced vertical accretion. The timing and patterns of sediment deposition on salt marshes adjacent to larger bodies of water such as coastal bays, however, differ from those on better-studied tidal creek marshes primarily owing to the importance of wind-waves. We combined field measurements and modeling to examine controls on suspended sediment concentrations and fluxes on a tidal flat (tidal range of 1.2 m) and rates of sediment deposition on the adjacent marsh at a site on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Suspended sediment concentrations over tidal flats were strongly controlled by waves. Yet, storm winds sufficient to drive large resuspension events often coincided with peak tidal elevations that were too low to flood the marsh, which was oriented away from the wind directions most favorable for storm surge, thereby restricting storm-driven, episodic sediment delivery to the marsh. Winds also drove wide variability in the direction of surface currents near the marsh edge when water depths were high enough to flood the marsh. Nevertheless, our results show that sediment in the upper water column over the tidal flat was effectively transported across the marsh edge during flooding tides. A sediment deposition model developed to investigate the combined effects of vegetation and wave action on depositional patterns predicted that waves displace maximum deposition inland from the marsh edge, consistent with measured deposition at the study site. Marsh deposition was sensitive to inundation frequency as well as the concentration of sediment in water flooding the marsh, underscoring the importance of nontidal controls on water surface elevation, such as meteorological effects (e.g., storm surge) and sea level rise. Whereas short-term increases in marsh inundation enhance deposition, sea level rise that results in deeper average water depths over the tidal flats decreases deposition if marsh elevation is rising in step with sea level.


Suspended sediment concentrations Sediment flux Sediment deposition Salt marsh Shallow coastal bays Storms Sea-level rise 



Primary support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation through the VCR LTER award 1237733. Additional support was provided by NSF OCE-SEES award 1426981 and NSF EAR-GLD award 1529245. Logistical support was provided by the staff and facilities at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center. Comments from two anonymous reviewers helped to improve the manuscript.

Supplementary material

12237_2018_478_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (100 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 100 kb)
12237_2018_478_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (86 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 86 kb)


  1. Beckman Coulter. 2011. Instructions for use: LS 13 320 laser diffraction particle size analyzer, PN B05577AB, revision 10/11. California: Brea.Google Scholar
  2. Butzeck, C., A. Eschenbach, A. Gröngröft, et al. 2015. Sediment deposition and accretion rates in tidal marshes are highly variable along estuarine salinity and flooding gradients. Estuaries and Coasts 38: 434. Scholar
  3. Cahoon, D.R., and D.J. Reed. 1995. Relationships among marsh surface topography, hydroperiod, and soil accretion in a deteriorating Louisiana salt marsh. Journal of Coastal Research 11 (2): 357–369.Google Scholar
  4. Callaghan, D.P., T.J. Bouma, P. Klaassen, D. van der Wal, M.J.F. Stive, and P.M.J. Herman. 2010. Hydrodynamic forcing on salt-marsh development: Distinguishing the relative importance of waves and tidal flows. Estuarine, Coastal, & Shelf Science 89: 73–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carniello, L., A. D’Alpaos, and A. Defina. 2011. Modeling wind waves and tidal flows in shallow micro-tidal basins. Estuarine, Coastal, & Shelf Science 92: 263–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carniello, L., A. Defina, and A. D’Alpaos. 2012. Modeling sand-mud transport induced by tidal currents and wind-waves in shallow microtidal basins: Application to the Venice Lagoon (Italy). Estuarine, Coastal & Shelf Science 102-3: 105–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carr, J., Mariotti, G., Fahgerazzi, S., McGlathery, K., and P. Wiberg. 2018. Exploring the impacts of seagrass on coupled marsh-tidal flat morphodynamics. Frontiers in Environmental Science 6: 92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Castagno, K.A., A.M. Jiménez-Robles, J.P. Donnelly, P.L. Wiberg, M.S. Fenster, S. Fagherazzi. (2018). Intense storms increase the stability of tidal bays. Geophysical Research Letters.Google Scholar
  9. Christiansen, T. 1998. Sediment deposition on a tidal salt marsh. (unpublished PhD dissertation). In University of Virginia. Charlottesville: USA.Google Scholar
  10. Christiansen, T., P.L. Wiberg, and T.G. Mulligan. 2000. Flow and sediment transport on a tidal salt marsh surface. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 50: 315–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. D'Alpaos, A., S.M. Mudd, and L. Carniello. 2011. Dynamic response of marshes to perturbations in suspended sediment concentrations and rates of relative sea level rise. Journal of Geophysical Research 116: F04020. Scholar
  12. Deaton, C.D., C.J. Hein, and M.L. Kirwan. 2017. Barrier island migration dominates ecogeomorphic feedbacks and drives salt marsh loss along the Virginia Atlantic Coast, USA. Geology 45 (2): 123–126. Scholar
  13. Dietrich, W.E. 1982. Settling velocity of natural particles. Water Resources Research 18: 1615–1626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Donelan, M.A., J. Hamilton, and W.H. Hui. 1985. Directional spectra for wind-generated waves. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, A A 315L: 509–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Drake, D.E., and D.A. Cacchione. 1989. Estimates of the suspended sediment reference concentration (Cα) and resuspension coefficient (γ0) from near-bottom observations on the California shelf. Continental Shelf Research 9: 51–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Duvall, M.S. 2014. The effects of waves and tidal inundation on sediment flux and deposition across a bay-marsh boundary. (unpublished Master’s thesis). In University of Virginia. Charlottesville: USA.Google Scholar
  17. Ensign, S.H., and C. Currin. 2017. Geomorphic implications of particle movement by water surface tension in a salt marsh. Wetlands 37 (2): 245–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fagherazzi, S. 2013. The ephemeral life of a salt marsh. Geology 41 (8): 943–944. Scholar
  19. Fagherazzi, S., and P.L. Wiberg. 2009. Importance of wind conditions, fetch, and water levels on wave- generated shear stresses in shallow intertidal basins. Journal of Geophysical Research 114: F03022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fagherazzi, S., G. Mariotti, J.H. Porter, K.J. McGlathery, and P.L. Wiberg. 2010. Wave energy asymmetry in shallow bays. Geophysical Research Letters 37: L24601. Scholar
  21. Fagherazzi, S., P.L. Wiberg, S. Temmerman, E. Struyf, Y. Zhao, and P.A. Raymond. 2013. Fluxes of water, sediment, and biogeochemical compounds in salt marshes. Ecological Processes 2: 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fredsoe, J., and R. Deigaard. 1992. Mechanics of Coastal Sediment Transport. Advanced Series on Ocean Engineering Vol. 3. Singapore: World Science.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. French, J.R., and T. Spencer. 1993. Dynamics of sedimentation in a tide-dominated backbarrier saltmarsh, Norfolk, UK. Marine Geology 110 (3–4): 315–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Friedrichs, C.T., and J.E. Perry. 2001. Tidal salt marsh morphodynamics. Journal of Coastal Research 27: 6–36.Google Scholar
  25. Ganju, N.K., M.L. Kirwan, P.J. Dickhudt, G.R. Guntenspergen, D.R. Cahoon, and K.D. Kroeger. 2015. Sediment transport-based metrics of wetland stability. Geophysical Research Letters 42: 7992–8000. Scholar
  26. Ganju, N.K., Z. Defne, M.L. Kirwan, S. Fagherazzi, A. D’Alpaos, and L. Carniello. 2017. Spatially integrative metrics reveal hidden vulnerability of microtidal salt marshes. Nature Communications 8: 14156. Scholar
  27. Gompertz, B. 1825. On the nature of the function expressive of the law of human mortality, and on a new mode of determining the value of life contingencies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 115: 513–585. Scholar
  28. Hansen, J.C.R., and M.A. Reidenbach. 2012. Wave and tidally driven flows in eelgrass beds and their effect on sediment suspension. Marine Ecology Progress Series 448: 271–287. Scholar
  29. Hill, P.S., A.R.M. Nowell, and P.A. Jumars. 1988. Flume evaluation of the relationship between suspended sediment concentration and excess boundary shear stress. Journal of Geophysical Research 93: 12499–12510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hornberger, G.M, P.L. Wiberg, J.P. Raffensperger & P. D’Odorico. 2014. Elements of physical hydrology, 2nd edition. Johns Hopkins press.Google Scholar
  31. Kastler, J., and P. Wiberg. 1996. Sedimentation and boundary changes of Virginia salt marshes. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 42: 683–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kearney, M.S., and R.E. Turner. 2016. Can these widespread and fragile marshes survive increasing climate–sea level variability and human action? Journal of Coastal Research 32 (3): 686–699.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kirwan, M., and S. Temmerman. 2009. Coastal marsh response to historical and future sea-level acceleration. Quaternary Science Reviews 28: 1801–1808. Scholar
  34. Kirwan, M.L., G.R. Guntenspergen, A. D’Alpaos, J.T. Morris, S.M. Mudd, and S. Temmerman. 2010. Limits on the adaptability of coastal marshes to rising sea level. Geophysical Research Letters 37: L23401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kirwan, M.L., D.C. Walters, W.G. Reay, and J.A. Carr. 2016. Sea level driven marsh expansion in a coupled model of marsh erosion and migration. Geophysical Research Letters 43: 4366–4373. Scholar
  36. Lawson, S. E. (2004). Sediment suspension as a control on light availability in a coastal lagoon. (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia.Google Scholar
  37. Lawson, S.E., P.L. Wiberg, K.J. McGlathery, and D.C. Fugate. 2007. Wind-driven sediment suspension controls light availability in shallow coastal lagoon. Estuaries and Coasts 30 (1): 102–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Leonard, L.A. 1997. Controls of sediment transport and deposition in an incised mainland marsh basin, southeastern North Carolina. Wetlands 17 (2): 263–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leonard, L.A., and M.E. Luther. 1995. Flow hydrodynamics in tidal marsh canopies. Limnology and Oceanography 40 (8): 1474–1484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Leonardi, N., N.K. Ganju, and S. Fagherazzi. 2016. A linear relationship between wave power and erosion determines salt-marsh resilience to violent storms and hurricanes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 64–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lynch, J.C., Hensel, P., and D.R. Cahoon. 2015. The surface elevation table and marker horizon technique: A protocol for monitoring wetland elevation dynamics. Natural Resource Report NPS/NCBN/NRR--2015/1078. Fort Collins, CO: National Park Service.Google Scholar
  42. Marani, M., A. D’Alpaos, S. Lanzoni, and M. Santalucia. 2011. Understanding and predicting wave erosion of marsh edges. Geophysical Research Letters 38: L21401. Scholar
  43. Mariotti, G., and J. Carr. 2014. Dual role of salt marsh retreat: Long-term loss and short-term resilience. Water Resources Research 50: 2963–2974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mariotti, G., and S. Fagherazzi. 2010. A numerical model for the coupled long-term evolution of salt marshes and tidal flats. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: F01004.Google Scholar
  45. Mariotti, G., and S. Fagherazzi. 2013. Critical width of tidal flats triggers marsh collapse in the absence of sea-level rise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110 (14): 5353–5356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Mariotti, G., S. Fagherazzi, P.L. Wiberg, K.J. McGlathery, L. Carniello, and A. Defina. 2010. Influence of storm surges and sea level on shallow tidal basin erosive processes. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: C11012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McLoughlin, S.M. (2010). Erosional processes along salt marsh edges on the eastern shore of Virginia. (unpublished Master’s thesis). Charlottesville, VA, USA: University of Virginia.Google Scholar
  48. McLoughlin, S.M., P.L. Wiberg, I. Safak, and K.J. McGlathery. 2015. Rates and forcing of marsh-edge erosion in a shallow coastal bay: Virginia. Estuaries and Coasts.
  49. Möller, I., T. Spencer, and J.R. French. 1996. Wind wave attenuation over saltmarsh surfaces: Preliminary results from Norfolk, England. Journal of Coastal Research 12 (4): 1009–1016.Google Scholar
  50. Möller, I., T. Spencer, J.R. French, D.J. Leggett, and M. Dixon. 1999. Wave transformation over salt marshes: A field and numerical modeling study from North Norfolk, England. Estuarine, Coastal & Shelf Science 49 (3): 411–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Möller, I., M. Kudella, F. Rupprecht, T. Spencer, M. Paul, B.K. van Wesenbeeck, G. Wolters, K. Jensen, T.J. Bouma, M. Miranda-Lange, and S. Schimmels. 2014. Wave attenuation over coastal salt marshes under storm surge conditions. Nature Geoscience 7: 727–731. Scholar
  52. Morris, J.T., P.V. Sundareshwar, C.T. Nietch, B. Kjerfve, and D.R. Cahoon. 2002. Responses of coastal wetlands to rising sea level. Ecology 83: 2869–2877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Nepf, H.M. 1999. Drag, turbulence, and diffusion in flow through emergent vegetation. Water Resources Research 35 (2): 479–489. Scholar
  54. Oertel, G.F. 2001. Hypsographic, hydro-hypsographic, and hydrological analysis of coastal bay environments, Great Machipongo Bay, Virginia. Journal of Coastal Research 17: 775–783.Google Scholar
  55. Paramor, O.A.L., and R.G. Hughes. 2004. The effects of bioturbation and herbivory by the polychaete Neresis diversicolor on loss of saltmarsh in south-east England. Journal of Applied Ecology 41: 449–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pasternack, G.B., and G.S. Brush. 1998. Sedimentation cycles in a river-mouth tidal freshwater marsh. Estuaries 21: 407–415. Scholar
  57. Pestrong, R. 1969. The shear stress of tidal marsh sediments. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 39: 322–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pratolongo, P., G.M.E. Perillo, and M.C. Piccolo. 2010. Combined effects of waves and plants on a mud deposition event at a mudflat-saltmarsh edge in the Bahía Blanca estuary. Estuarine Coastal &. Shelf Science 87: 207–212. Scholar
  59. Priestas, A.M., G. Mariotti, N. Leonardi, and S. Fagherazzi. 2010. Coupled wave energy and erosion dynamics along a salt marsh boundary, Hog Island Bay, Virginia, USA. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering 3 (3): 1041–1065.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Reidenbach, M., Timmerman, R. (2014). Wind speed and direction on Godwin Island, 2013–2014 [data file]. Retrieved from
  61. Rouse, H. 1937. Modern conceptions of the mechanics of turbulence. Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 102: 436–505.Google Scholar
  62. Schuerch, M., A. Vafeidis, T. Slawig, and S. Temmerman. 2013. Modeling the influence of changing storm patterns on the ability of a salt marsh to keep pace with sea level rise. Journal of Geophysical Research 118: 84–96. Scholar
  63. Smith, J.D., and S.R. Mclean. 1977. Spatially averaged flow over a wavy surface. Journal of Geophysical Research 82: 1735–1746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sternberg, R.W., D.A. Cacchione, D.E. Drake, and K. Kranck. 1986. Suspended sediment dynamics in an estuarine tidal channel within San Francisco Bay, California. Marine Geology 71: 237–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Temmerman, S., G. Govers, S. Wartel, and P. Meire. 2003. Spatial and temporal factors controlling short-term sedimentation in a salt and freshwater tidal marsh, Scheldt estuary, Belgium, SW Netherlands. Earth Surface Processes & Landforms 28: 739–755. Scholar
  66. Tonelli, M., S. Fagherazzi, and M. Petti. 2010. Modeling wave impact on salt marsh boundaries. Journal of Geophysical Research 115: C09028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wheatcroft, R.A., P.L. Wiberg, et al. 2007. Post-depositional alteration of strata. In Continental margin sedimentation: Transport to sequence, ed. C. Nittrouer et al., 101–155. Oxford: Blackwell Pub.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wiberg, P.L. 2016. Evolution of a marsh as the bay-marsh boundary “front” moves through it. Abstract EP21B-0879 presented at the 2016 fall meeting, 12–16. San Francisco: AGU.Google Scholar
  69. Wiberg, P.L., and C.R. Sherwood. 2008. Calculating wave-generated bottom orbital velocities from surface-wave parameters. Computers & Geosciences 34: 1243–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wiberg, P.L., and J.D. Smith. 1983. A comparison of field data and theoretical models for wave-current interactions at the bed on the continental shelf. Continental Shelf Research 2: 147–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wiberg, P.L., B.A. Law, R.A. Wheatcroft, T.G. Milligan, and P.S. Hill. 2013. Seasonal variations in erodibility and sediment transport potential in a mesotidal channel-flat complex, Willapa Bay, WA. Continental Shelf Research 60: S185–S197. Scholar
  72. Wiberg, P.L., J.A. Carr, I. Safak, and A. Anutaliya. 2015. Quantifying the distribution and influence of non-uniform bed properties in shallow coastal bays. Limnology & Oceanography Methods 13: 746–762. Scholar
  73. Widdows, J., N.D. Pope, and M.D. Brinsley. 2008. Effect of Spartina anglica stems on near-bed hydrodynamics, sediment erodibility and morphological changes on an intertidal mudflat. Marine Ecological Progress Series 362: 45–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wilson, C.A., Z.J. Hughes, and D.M. FitzGerald. 2012. The effects of crab bioturbation on Mid-Atlantic saltmarsh tidal creek extension: Geotechnical and geochemical changes. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 106: 33–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wunsch, C., and D. Stammer. 1997. Atmospheric loading and the oceanic “inverted barometer” effect. Reviews of Geophysics 35: 79–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Young, I.R., and L.A. Verhagen. 1996a. The growth of fetch limited waves in water of finite depth. 1. Total energy and peak frequency. Coastal Engineering 29 (1–2): 47–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Young, I.R., and L.A. Verhagen. 1996b. The growth of fetch limited waves in water of finite depth. 2. Spectral evolution. Coastal Engineering 29 (1–2): 79–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke University Marine LaboratoryBeaufortUSA
  3. 3.Virginia Institute of Marine ScienceCollege of William & MaryGloucester PointUSA

Personalised recommendations