Modeling organic carbon loss from a rapidly eroding freshwater coastal wetland

 

Katherine Braun, Ethan Theuerkauf, Andrew Masterson, B. Brandon Curry, and Daniel Horton

 

         

Shoreline erosion can transition freshwater coastal wetlands from carbon sinks to carbon sources. No studies have explored the impacts of coastal geomorphic processes on freshwater wetland carbon budgets. To do so, we modified a saltmarsh carbon budget model for application in freshwater coastal wetlands. We validated the model with data from a shoreline wetland in the Laurentian Great Lakes. The model generates the carbon budget by differencing carbon export and carbon storage. The inputs for carbon storage are the carbon inventory and maximum wetland age. Inputs for carbon export include erosion rates and overwash extent. The model demonstrates that the wetland examined in this study transitioned to a source of carbon during periods of erosion. In fact, the net carbon export between 2015 and 2018 was 10% of the wetland's original carbon stock. This study indicates that geomorphic change can dictate whether and how freshwater coastal wetlands serve as sources or sinks for terrestrial carbon, and that carbon stocks can fluctuate on a geologically rapid timescale. We recommend that such geomorphic processes be considered when developing carbon budgets for these marginal environments. Furthermore, the carbon budget model refined in this study can be used to prioritize wetlands in land management and conservation efforts.