Spatial response of coastal marshes to increased atmospheric CO2
Ratliff et al
The elevation and extent of coastal marshes are dictated by the interplay between the rate of relative sea-level rise (RRSLR), surface accretion by inorganic sediment deposition, and organic soil production by plants. These accretion processes respond to changes in local and global forcings, such as sediment delivery to the coast, nutrient concentrations, and atmospheric CO2, but their relative importance for marsh resilience to increasing RRSLR remains unclear. In particular, marshes up-take atmospheric CO2 at high rates, thereby playing a major role in the global carbon cycle, but the morphologic expression of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, an imminent aspect of climate change, has not yet been isolated and quantified. Using the available observational literature and a spatially explicit ecomorphodynamic model, we explore marsh responses to increased atmospheric CO2, relative to changes in inorganic sediment availability and elevated nitrogen levels. We find that marsh vegetation response to foreseen elevated atmospheric CO2 is similar in magnitude to the response induced by a varying inorganic sediment concentration, and that it increases the threshold RRSLR initiating marsh submergence by up to 60% in the range of forcings explored. Furthermore, we find that marsh responses are inherently spatially dependent, and cannot be adequately captured through 0-dimensional representations of marsh dynamics. Our results imply that coastal marshes, and the major carbon sink they represent, are significantly more resilient to foreseen climatic changes than previously thought.