Taking New Zealand mangrove data as the basis of a new modelling system, the team were able to predict what will happen to different types of estuaries and river deltas when sea levels rise. They found areas without mangroves are likely to widen from erosion and more water will encroach inwards, whereas mangrove regions prevent this effect – which is likely due to soil building up around their mesh-like roots and acting to reduce energy from waves and tidal currents.
Coastal estuaries and recesses in coastlines that form bays receive the run-off from erosion on steep catchments, which give them the tendency to fill in over time. As they infill, the movement of the tidal currents over the shallow areas create networks of sandbanks and channels. The sand banks grow upward to keep pace with water-level changes, while the channels get deeper to efficiently drain the excess water out to sea.
The researchers’ latest work shows that mangroves can facilitate this process, by adding leaf and root structures into the accumulating sediment, which increase the elevation while enhancing the trapping of new sediment arriving from the catchment.
Dr Barend van Maanen from the University of Southampton explains: “As a mangrove forest begins to develop, the creation of a network of channels is relatively fast. Tidal currents, sediment transport and mangroves significantly modify the estuarine environment, creating a dense channel network. Within the mangrove forest, these channels become shallower through organic matter from the trees, reduced sediment resuspensions (caused by the mangroves) and sediment trapping (also caused by the mangroves) and the sea bed begins to rise, with bed elevation increasing a few millimetres per year until the area is no longer inundated by the tide.”...