Does edge erosion alter coastal wetland soil properties? A multi-method biogeochemical study

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© 2019 Elsevier B.V. Coastal wetlands in Louisiana experience high rates of edge erosion due to combined eustatic sea level rise and coastal subsidence. This study sought to (1) evaluate site-specific spatial and temporal patterns in marsh edge erosion rates within Barataria Bay, LA, (2) develop an understanding of the physical and chemical properties of eroding soils through biogeochemical and spectroscopic characterization, and (3) evaluate interactions between erosion, saltwater incursion, and soil properties through a comparison of sites with different erosion rates and varying distances from the eroding edge. Replicate soil cores were collected at three distances inland (1 m, 3 m, 5 m) at three different sites (west, south, and north) to a depth of 1 m. Erosion rates were measured at each site, and soils were sectioned into 10 cm intervals for a total of 270 soil and porewater samples. Each soil sample was subjected to soil physicochemical analysis (bulk density, moisture content, organic matter content, and total carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P)) as well as assessments of biogeochemical cycling (production of CO2, mineralization of N and P, and extractable nutrient concentrations). Porewater samples were analyzed to elucidate spectroscopic and fluorometric indicators of carbon quality (aromaticity, humification, lignin proportion, and C source). Erosion rates at the west, north, and south sites were 3.36 ± 0.4, 1.34 ± 0.2, and 0.58 ± 0.03 m yr−1, respectively. Neither erosional magnitude nor saltwater incursion was found to be significant predictors of any measured spectroscopic or biogeochemical parameters, though depth was a significant control on 18 of the measured 20 parameters. The top 30 cm were more biologically active (as indicated by greater mineralization of C, N and P) and were characterized by lower molecular weight porewater DOM with less aromaticity. Degree of humification and aromaticity of porewater DOM increased with both depth and distance inland. Concentrations of bioavailable N and P at 1 m depth were at least 5 times greater than surface concentrations, representing a pool of nutrients that could be exported into the coastal ocean with ongoing erosion. This study is the first to couple spectroscopic and biogeochemical measurements for the purpose of assessing soil and porewater physicochemistry within wetland soils and illustrates an as-yet unaccounted for potential for the export of labile C, N, and P into the coastal ocean.

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