Impact of vegetation die-off on spatial flow patterns over a tidal marsh
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Geophysical research letters. - Washington, D.C.
, p. L03406,1-L03406,5
University of Antwerp
Large-scale die-off of tidal marsh vegetation, caused by global change, is expected to change flow patterns over tidal wetlands, and hence to affect valuable wetland functions such as reduction of shoreline erosion, attenuation of storm surges, and sedimentation in response to sea level rise. This study quantified for the first time the effects of large-scale (4 ha) artificial vegetation removal, as proxy of die-off, on the spatial flow patterns through a tidal marsh channel and over the surrounding marsh platform. After vegetation removal, the flow velocities measured on the platform increased by a factor of 2 to 4, while the channel flow velocities decreased by almost a factor of 3. This was associated with a change in flow directions on the platform, from perpendicular to the channel edges when vegetation was present, to a tendency of more parallel flow to the channel edges when vegetation was absent. Comparison with hydrodynamic model simulations explains that the vegetation-induced friction causes both flow reduction on the vegetated platform and flow acceleration towards the non-vegetated channels. Our findings imply that large-scale vegetation die-off would not only result in decreased platform sedimentation rates, but also in sediment infilling of the channels, which together would lead to further worsening of plant growth conditions and a potentially runaway feedback to permanent vegetation loss.