Competing Effects of Relative Sea-Level Rise and Fluvial Inputs on Blue Carbon Sequestration in Oregon Salt Marshes (2016-18)

Lead PI: Robert Wheatcroft
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University
104 CEOAS Admin Bldg
Corvallis, OR 97331
Phone: 541-737-3891

Co-PIs: Laura Brophy, Institute for Applied Ecology; Erin Peck, OSU; Michael Ewald, Institute for Applied Ecology

Lying within meters of mean sea level, salt marshes exist in a dynamic equilibrium that depends on the provision of sediment from both terrestrial and marine sources, its redistribution by waves and tidal currents, and its short- and long-term deposition and accumulation. Despite this complexity, a consensus has emerged that two key variables control the resilience of salt marshes: 1) the rate of relative sea level rise, and 2) temporal fluctuations in fluvial sediment supply.

Dr. Wheatcroft and his research team proposes to determine how the competing effects of fluvial sediment supply and relative sea level rise have influenced the burial of organic carbon in Oregon salt marshes during the past 300 years. This scientific goal is important because of the many ecosystem services provided by salt marshes; carbon sequestration – the burial of so-called “blue carbon” – has recently emerged as a key unknown with important scientific and management implications at local to global scales. Moreover, because salt marshes have suffered greatly from past human activities and are vulnerable to future climate-related change (e.g., accelerating sea level rise), as well as ongoing direct and indirect anthropogenic disturbance (e.g., dike construction, changes in fluvial sediment supply), their near term survival is unclear. Although a few studies have been conducted in the Pacific Northwest addressing facets of blue carbon burial and marsh resilience, to date the majority of this type of research has been conducted in the Spartina dominated systems of the US East and Gulf Coasts.

Oregon’s citizens, state and regional land managers, and conservationists have a poor understanding and appreciation of the blue carbon sequestration potential and overall resilience of our salt marshes. Through a multifaceted outreach and engagement plan, this research will deepen community partnerships and expand civic literacy about this regionally important, but relatively under-studied topic.

Strategic Plan Focus Areas: Healthy Coastal Ecosystems,Environmental Literacy and Workforce

Publications & Coverage Resulting from Research:

Deep blue: Rob Wheatcroft and Erin Peck explore blue carbon in Oregon salt marshes

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