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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 9;115(41):10281-10286. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1715392115. Epub 2018 Sep 24.

Sediment starvation destroys New York City marshes' resistance to sea level rise.

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NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY 10025;
Division of Biology and Paleoenvironment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY 10964.
Department of Conservation and Waterways, Town of Hempstead, Pt. Lookout, NY 11569.
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY 10025.


New York City (NYC) is representative of many vulnerable coastal urban populations, infrastructures, and economies threatened by global sea level rise. The steady loss of marshes in NYC's Jamaica Bay is typical of many urban estuaries worldwide. Essential to the restoration and preservation of these key wetlands is an understanding of their sedimentation. Here we present a reconstruction of the history of mineral and organic sediment fluxes in Jamaica Bay marshes over three centuries, using a combination of density measurements and a detailed accretion model. Accretion rate is calculated using historical land use and pollution markers, through a wide variety of sediment core analyses including geochemical, isotopic, and paleobotanical analyses. We find that, since 1800 CE, urban development dramatically reduced the input of marsh-stabilizing mineral sediment. However, as mineral flux decreased, organic matter flux increased. While this organic accumulation increase allowed vertical accumulation to outpace sea level, reduced mineral content causes structural weakness and edge failure. Marsh integrity now requires mineral sediment addition to both marshes and subsurface channels and borrow pits, a solution applicable to drowning estuaries worldwide. Integration of marsh mineral/organic accretion history with modeling provides parameters for marsh preservation at specific locales with sea level rise.


Jamaica Bay; marshes; mineral flux; sea level rise; sedimentation

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