Ensign, S.H., C. Currin, M. Piehler, and C. Tobias. 2016. Geomorphology 276:280–288.
Improving mechanistic prediction of shoreline response to sea level rise is currently limited by 1) morphologic complexity of tidal creek shorelines that confounds application of mechanistic models, and 2) availability of suspended sediment measurements to parameterize mechanistic models. To address these challenges we developed a metric to distinguish two morphodynamic classes of tidal creek and tested whether this metric could be used to predict suspended sediment concentration. We studied three small tidal creeks in North Carolina, U.S.A. We collected suspended sediment at one non-tidal and two tidal sites in each creek and measured the wetland and channel width using a geographic information system. In each creek, tidal harmonics were measured for one year, sediment accretion on the salt marsh was measured for three years, and shoreline erosion was measured from aerial photographs spanning 50 years. Additional total suspended solids measurements from seven creeks reported in a national database supplemented our analysis. Among the three intensively studied creeks, shoreline erosion was highest in the most embayed creek (having a wider channel than the width of adjoining wetlands) and lowest in the wetland-dominated creek (having a channel narrower than the width of adjoining wetlands). Wetland sediment accretion rate in the wetland-dominated creek was four times higher than the accretion in the embayed creek. The wetland-dominated tidal creek had over twice the suspended sediment as the most embayed creek. Based on these results, we conclude that our metric of embayed and contrasting wetland-dominated creek morphology provides a guide for choosing between two types of morphodynamic models that are widely used to predict wetland shoreline change. This metric also allowed us to parse the 10 tidal creeks studied into two groups with different suspended sediment concentrations. This relationship between suspended sediment concentration and creek morphology provides a method to estimate sediment concentration for individual tidal creek shorelines from spatial data alone, enabling more accurate parameterization of shoreline change models.