Modeling Tidal Freshwater Marsh Sustainability in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Under a Broad Suite of Potential Future Scenarios

AUTHORS: Swanson, Kathleen M., San Francisco Public Utilities Commission; Drexler, Judith Z., U.S. Geological Survey, California Water Science Center; Fuller, Christopher C., U.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program; Schoellhamer, David H., U.S. Geological Survey, California Water Science Center

ABSTRACT:

In this paper, we report on the adaptation and application of a one-dimensional marsh surface elevation model, the Wetland Accretion Rate Model of Ecosystem Resilience (WARMER), to explore the conditions that lead to sustainable tidal freshwater marshes in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We defined marsh accretion parameters to encapsulate the range of observed values over historic and modern time-scales based on measurements from four marshes in high and low energy fluvial environments as well as possible future trends in sediment supply and mean sea level. A sensitivity analysis of 450 simulations was conducted encompassing a range of porosity values, initial elevations, organic and inorganic matter accumulation rates, and sea-level rise rates. For the range of inputs considered, the magnitude of SLR over the next century was the primary driver of marsh surface elevation change. Sediment supply was the secondary control. More than 84% of the scenarios resulted in sustainable marshes with 88 cm of SLR by 2100, but only 32% and 11% of the scenarios resulted in surviving marshes when SLR was increased to 133 cm and 179 cm, respectively. Marshes situated in high-energy zones were marginally more resilient than those in low-energy zones because of their higher inorganic sediment supply. Overall, the results from this modeling exercise suggest that marshes at the upstream reaches of the Delta—where SLR may be attenuated—and high energy marshes along major channels with high inorganic sediment accumulation rates will be more resilient to global SLR in excess of 88 cm over the next century than their downstream and low-energy counterparts. However, considerable uncertainties exist in the projected rates of sea-level rise and sediment avail-ability. In addition, more research is needed to constrain future rates of aboveground and belowground plant productivity under increased CO2 concentrations and flooding.

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