Anthropogenic impacts on tidal creek sedimentation since 1900
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Anthropogenic impacts on tidal creek sedimentation since 1900

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    Land cover and use around the margins of estuaries has shifted since 1950 at many sites in North America due to development pressures from higher population densities. Small coastal watersheds are ubiquitous along estuarine margins and most of this coastal land-cover change occurred in these tidal creek watersheds. A change in land cover could modify the contribution of sediments from tidal creek watersheds to downstream areas and affect estuarine habitats that rely on sediments to persist or are adversely impacted by sediment loading. The resilience of wetlands to accelerating relative sea-level rise depends, in part, on the supply of lithogenic sediment to support accretion and maintain elevation; however, subtidal habitats such as oyster reefs and seagrass beds are stressed under conditions of high turbidity and sedimentation. Here we compare sediment accumulation rates before and after 1950 using 210Pb in 12 tidal creeks across two distinct regions in North Carolina, one region of low relief tidal-creek watersheds where land cover change since 1959 was dominated by fluctuations in forest, silviculture, and agriculture, and another region of relatively high relief tidal-creek watersheds where land-use change was dominated by increasing suburban development. At eight of the creeks, mass accumulation rates (g cm-2 y-1) measured at the outlet of the creeks increased contemporaneously with the largest shift in land cover, within the resolution of the land-cover data set (~5-years). All but two creek sites experienced a doubling or more in sediment accumulation rates (cm yr-1) after 1950 and most sites experienced sediment accumulation rates that exceeded the rate of local relative sea-level rise, suggesting that there is an excess of sediment being delivered to these tidal creeks and that they may slowly be infilling. After 1950, land cover within one creek watershed changed little, as did mass accumulation rates at the coring location, and another creek coring site did not record an increase in mass accumulation rates at the creek outlet despite a massive increase in development in the watershed that included the construction of retention ponds. These abundant tidal-creek watersheds have little relief, area, and flow, but they are impacted by changes in land cover more, in terms of percent area, than their larger riverine counterparts, and down-stream areas are highly connected to their associated watersheds. This work expands the scientific understanding of connectivity between lower coastal plain watersheds and estuaries and provides important information for coastal zone managers seeking to balance development pressures and environmental protections.
  • Source:
    PLOS ONE, 18(1), e0280490
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    CC BY
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