Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

The importance of geomorphic context for estimating the carbon stock of salt marshes


We measured total carbon stocks of three marshes: Two formed in association with a developing spit along the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast of New Brunswick, Canada, and another with a lagoon on the coast of Maine, USA. Overall, 46 cores and 157 depth recordings were collected to determine depth of the marsh deposits. Total marsh soil volume was estimated by interpolation. In all marshes soil depth varied in a predictable pattern based upon marsh developmental history. In spit marshes deposit age and thickness increased towards the oldest portion of the spit. In the lagoonal marsh, soil depth was greatest in the center and declined towards both the upland and seaward margins. This same pattern held on axes perpendicular to the primary, age axis of the spit marshes. In each marsh C density did not significantly vary with depth so that marsh depth was an acceptable estimator of C stock, and therefore driven by the geomorphic context of the marshes we studied. There were major differences in C stock estimates produced using GIS interpolation, average C contained in all marsh cores, or cores along a single transect. Our study demonstrates that assuming a soil depth of just 0.5 or 1 m can substantially under- or overestimate marsh carbon stocks and the value of that stock on a carbon market.

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