Mud On the Move: Measuring Suspended Sediment Concentrations within Tidal Wetlands in the San Francisco Estuary

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
John Callaway1, Matthew Ferner2, Jessica R Lacy3 and Lisa M Schile2, (1)University of San Francisco, Environmental Studies, San Francisco, CA, United States, (2)San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Tiburon, CA, United States, (3)USGS Western Regional Offices Menlo Park, Menlo Park, CA, United States
Supply of suspended sediment is critical for the development and sustainability of tidal wetlands. Suspended sediment concentration (SSC) is also a key parameter used in calibrating wetland accretion models, which aid in understanding restoration dynamics and projecting resilience to sea-level rise. Despite the importance of suspended sediment, few field studies have directly measured SSC within tidal wetlands, relying instead on measurements in adjacent waters or focusing on long-term rates of sediment accretion. We refined and tested a simple method for collecting SSC samples within wetlands on an incoming high tide, using siphon collectors. Bottles were positioned during low tide at set locations along transects extending away from either channels or the lower boundary of the vegetated wetland. This sampling protocol was developed collaboratively, with substantial input from local wetland managers and other stakeholders within the San Francisco Bay area and beyond. Simultaneously, we measured time series of SSC, water level, and tidal currents in the subtidal shallows, on the intertidal mudflats, and in two channels within the wetland. We observed significant sediment export during king tides in the wetland channels. Cumulative suspended sediment flux (SSF) over four days during the January 2014 king tides was approximately 10 tons/m of channel width, towards the bay. During neap tides SSF in the channels was directed landward but was lower in magnitude. Elevated velocities in the channels during ebb king tides suggest that resuspension within the channels, rather than erosion of the wetland, accounts for much of the bayward SSF. Within the wetland, SSC from the siphon samplers was highest at the bayward end of the cross-shore transects, indicating landward sediment flux. Taken together with long term accretion data which indicates sediment accumulation within the wetland, our results suggest that sediment is primarily supplied across the wetland-Bay interface, and exported from the wetland through tidal channels. These findings are relevant to the design and monitoring of restored wetlands, which frequently rely on transport through breaches for sediment supply. They also indicate the importance of accounting for sediment export as well as import in modeling the response of wetlands to sea-level rise.