Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

The impact of man-made earthen barriers on the physical structure of New England tidal marshes (USA)


In New England salt marshes, man-made earthen barriers, or berms, are generally historic, small-scale (average height = 0.71 m ± 0.12 SE; average length = 166 m ± 41 SE) tidal restrictions which originated from past agricultural, industrial, and environmental practices. The orientation and size depends primarily on the original purpose of the barrier, but this study examines the effects of berms oriented parallel to the incoming tide such that some landward portion of the marsh receives a different tidal signal than the seaward portion. Our hypotheses considered the impacts of the altered hydrology on pore water chemistry and edaphic characteristics. The results indicate that the effect of berms on salt marsh physical structure varies significantly by site. Where the tidal flooding frequency is restricted and drainage is poor, the landward marsh shows pool development, high salinity and sulfide concentrations, and low vegetation cover. In contrast, where tidal flooding is inhibited but the marsh soils are well-drained, salinity and sulfide concentrations decrease and accelerated decomposition results in subsidence and reduced soil organic matter. Given these findings, impacts from berms may impair salt marsh function and resilience to invasive plants and sea level rise.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Natural Resources and the Environment

Publication Date


Journal Title

Wetlands Ecology and Management



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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013