Seaward expansion of salt marshes maintains morphological self-similarity of tidal channel networks

Zicheng Yang, Alvise Finotello, Guillaume Goodwin, Chao Gao, Simon Mudd, Dimitri Lague, Christian Schwarz, Bo Tian, Massimiliano Ghinassi, Andrea D'Alpaos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tidal channel networks (TCNs) dissect ecologically and economically valuable salt marsh ecosystems. These networks evolve in response to complex interactions between hydrological, sedimentological, and ecological processes that act in tidal landscapes. Thus, improving current knowledge of the evolution of salt-marsh TCNs is critical to providing a better understanding of bio-morphodynamic processes in coastal environments. Existing studies of coastal TCNs have typically focussed on marshes with either laterally stable or eroding edges, and suggested that TCN morphology evolves primarily through the progressive landward erosion of channel tips, that is, via channel headward growth. In this study, we analyze for the first time the morphological evolution of TCNs found within salt marshes that are characterized by active lateral expansion along their seaward edges and anthropogenically-fixed landward boundaries. We use remote-sensing and numerical-modeling analyses to show that marsh seaward expansion effectively limits headward channel growth and prompts the evolution of TCNs that maintain self-similar morphological structures. In particular, we demonstrate that the overall TCN length increases proportionally to the rate at which marshes expand laterally and that these morphological changes do not significantly alter the drainage properties of the coupled marsh-TCN system. Such behavior is not observed in marshes that are not expanding laterally. Our results allow for elucidating the mechanisms of TCN formation and evolution in tidal wetlands, and are therefore critical to improving our current understanding of coastal-landscape ecomorphodynamics, as well as to developing sustainable strategies for the conservation and restoration of these environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number128733
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Volume615 Part A.
Early online date8 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2022


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