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Impact of coastal marsh eco-geomorphologic change on the prediction of saltwater intrusion under future sea level rise

Presentation Date
Thursday, December 16, 2021 at 12:35pm
Convention Center - New Orleans Theater B



Coastal saltwater intrusion (SWI) is one key factor affecting the hydrology, nutrient transport, and biogeochemistry of coastal landscapes. Future climate change, especially intensified sea level rise (SLR), is expected to trigger SWI to encroach coastal freshwater aquifers more intensively. Numerous studies have investigated decadal/century scale SWI under SLR by assuming a static coastal landscape topography. However, coastal landscapes, especially coastal marshes, are highly dynamic systems in response to SLR, and the impact of coastal landscape evolution on SWI has received very little attention. Thus, this study used a coastal marsh landscape at the mid-Atlantic coast as an example and investigated how coastal marsh evolution affects future SWI with a physically-based coastal hydro-eco-geomorphologic model, ATS (Advanced Terrestrial Simulator). Our modeling experiments showed that it is very likely that the marsh elevation increases with future SLR due to the net increase of sedimentation, and a depression zone is formed due to the different marsh accretion rates between the ocean boundary and the inland. We found that, compared to the cases without considering marsh evolution, the marsh accretion may significantly reduce the surface saltwater inflow at the ocean boundary, and the evolved topographic depression zone may prolong the residence time of surface ponding saltwater, which causes distinct surface and subsurface salinity distributions. We also found that the marshland may become more sensitive to the upland groundwater table that controls the freshwater flux to the marshes, compared with the cases without considering marsh evolution. This study demonstrates the importance of taking into account the impact of coastal landscape evolution on predicting the freshwater-saltwater interaction under sea level rise, which helps improve our predictive understanding of the vulnerability of the coastal freshwater system to sea level rise.