Rising sea levels, reduced precipitation in watersheds, and global increases in water consumption are resulting in widespread saltwater intrusion into tidal freshwater wetlands. The movement of saline water into these historically freshwater ecosystems is likely to impact plant productivity, the decomposition of roots and litter, the metabolism of soil microbial communities, and, as a result, the rate of organic matter accumulation. Organic matter accumulation is an important factor determining the rate of vertical accretion in tidal freshwater wetlands, and whether these wetlands will be able to "keep up" with rising sea levels. The overall goal of this project is to understand how saltwater intrusion will impact the fate of organic carbon in tidal freshwater wetlands. Several tidal freshwater wetlands in Virginia and South Carolina that cover a range of soil types, plant communities, and potential responses to saltwater intrusion will be studied.
Coastal marshes supply a number of important ecosystem goods and services, including water quality improvement, floodwater buffering, and habitat for economically and ecologically important plants and animals. As sea level rises, it is critical to understand whether and how freshwater tidal wetlands will be able to keep pace by building soil volume. This research will allow us to understand and perhaps respond to the effects of climate change on tidal freshwater wetlands.