Surface Elevation Change Processes in the Snohomish River Estuary, Washington
Estuaries provide crucial ecosystem functions and contain significant socio-economic value. Within Washington State, estuaries supply rearing habitat for juvenile salmon during their transition period from freshwater to open sea. In order to properly manage wetland resources and restore salmon habitat, the mechanisms through which estuaries evolve and adapt to pressures from climate change, most notably eustatic sea level rise, must be understood. Estuaries maintain elevation relative to sea level rise through vertical accretion of sediment. This report investigates the processes that contribute to local surface elevation change in the Snohomish Estuary, conveys preliminary surface elevation change results from RTK GPS monitoring, and describes how surface elevation change will be monitored with a network of RSET-MH’s. Part of the tidal wetlands within the Snohomish River Estuary were converted for agricultural and industrial purposes in the 1800’s, which resulted in subsidence of organic soils and loss of habitat. The Tulalip Tribes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are conducting a large-scale restoration project to improve ecosystem health and restore juvenile salmon habitat. A study by Crooks et al. (2014) used 210Pb and carbon densities within sediment cores to estimate wetland re-building capacities, sediment accretion rates, and carbon sequestration potential within the Snohomish Estuary. This report uses the aforementioned study in combination with research on crustal movement, tidal patterns, sediment supply, and sea level rise predictions in the Puget Sound to project how surface elevation will change in the Snohomish Estuary with respect to sea level rise. Anthropogenic modification of the floodplain has reduced the quantity of vegetation and functional connectivity within the Snohomish Estuary. There have been losses up to 99% in vegetation coverage from historic extents within the estuary in both freshwater and mesohaline environments. Hydrographic monitoring conducted by NOAA and the Tulalip Tribe shows that 85% of the historic wetland area is not connected to the main stem of the Snohomish (Jason Hall 2014, unpublished data, NOAA). As vegetation colonization and functional connectivity of the floodplains of the Snohomish estuary is re-established through passive and active restoration, sediment transport and accretion is expected to increase. Under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “medium- probability” scenario sea level is projected to rise at a rate of 4.28 mm/year in the Puget Sound. Sea level rise in the Snohomish Estuary will be exacerbated from crustal deformation from subsidence and post-glacial rebound, which are measured to be -1.4 mm/year and -0.02 mm/year, respectively. Sediment accretion rates calculated by Crooks et al. (2014) and RTK GPS monitoring of surface elevation change of the Marysville Mitigation site from 2011-2014 measured vertical accretion rates that range from -48-19 mm/year and have high spatial variability. Sediment supply is estimated at 490 thousand tons/year, which may be an under-estimate because of the exclusion of tidal transport in this value. The higher rates of sediment accretion measured in the Snohomish Estuary suggest that the Snohomish will likely match or exceed the pace of sea level rise under “medium-probability” projections. The network of RSET-MH instruments will track surface elevation change within the estuary, and provide a more robust dataset on rates of surface elevation change to quantify how vertical accretion and subsidence are contributing to surface elevation change on a landscape scale.