Multi-annual and multi-decadal evolution of sediment accretion in a saltmarsh of the French Atlantic coast: Implications for carbon sequestration

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Coastal marshes offer natural solutions for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change and sea level rise. However, the resilience of the marsh physical system and, with it, the ecosystem services that it provides, is largely site specific. This calls for the increase in the spatial cover of coastal marsh studies in order to assess the controlling factors of marsh evolution, and their long-term carbon storage capacities. Here, we study the spatio-temporal variations in sedimentation rates and organic carbon (OC) sequestration capacity of the macrotidal minerogenic saltmarshes in Aiguillon Bay, belonging to one of the largest French coastal marshes. Supported by aerial photographs and satellite image analysis, we first show that saltmarshes of the Aiguillon Bay have prograded at very high rates, up to 14 m yr−1 since 1950. Sediment accumulation rates (SAR) were estimated at both multi-annual to multi-decadal scales based on two approaches: (i) LiDAR-based digital elevation models from multiple acquisition dates (2010–2021); and (ii) depth profiles of 210Pb in excess and 137Cs in sediment cores collected along cross-shore transects in the saltmarshes. Long-term SAR range from 0.8 to 2.2 cm yr−1 and are among the highest reported worldwide for equivalent systems. The positive accretion balance (accretion rate minus local sea-level rise rate) provides important clues on marsh resilience suggesting that the Aiguillon Bay is currently able to adapt to rising sea level. Despite relatively low organic carbon content (1.3–6.0%), high SAR leads to high carbon sequestration rates (99–345 gC m−2 yr−1; or a mean value of 2.5 Mg C ha−1 yr−1). The isotopic signature of sediment OC reveals a significant and rapid decomposition of organic material in surface cores, while allochthonous sediment of marine origin dominates the signature of chemically-stable OC of marsh sediments. This implies that the carbon sequestration capacity of minerogenic saltmarshes, such as those of the Pertuis Charentais, also depends upon the wealth of adjacent coastal environments through high sediment supply and primary productivity.

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Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science