Sediment structure, hydrology and erosion in restored saltmarshes

Theme: Earth, Atmosphere & Ocean Processes

Primary Supervisor:

Kate Spencer

School of Geography, QMUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Geraldene Wharton

School of Geography, QMUL

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Project Description:

Coastal saltmarshes are under threat from population growth and sea level rise and to compensate for this habitat loss, wetlands are restored whereby hard coastal defences are removed to allow the inundation of previously defended areas (e.g. managed realignment).

These newly-created wetlands have the potential to deliver ecosystem services including biodiversity, coastal defence, climate regulation and detoxification (Spencer and Harvey 2012). However, there is increasing evidence to suggest that restored saltmarshes may not offer the same ecosystem services as their natural counterparts, with different hydrological and biogeochemical characteristics compared to undisturbed wetlands (Tempest et al. 2014; Morris et al. 2014). Our preliminary data, indicate that this is largely due to changes in the sub-surface sediment structure.

The aim of this PhD will be to develop and utilise novel 3-dimensional micro-computed tomography to examine physical sediment structure and characteristics (e.g porosity and density) in coastal saltmarshes and to explore how changes to sediment structure influence ecosystem services – particularly saltmarshes as a coastal defence.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding the functioning of these ecosystems would constitute a significant step towards compliance with both the EU Habitats and Water Framework directives (WFD), as well as leading to more effective monitoring protocols and improved design of restoration schemes. In addition, improved understanding of how why different saltmarshes (natural vs restored) might have different vulnerabilities to sea level rise may help improving our models and understanding of coastal erosion.

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