Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Joseph (Donny) M. Smoak, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Robert H. Byrne, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brad E. Rosenheim, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen E. Davis, III, Ph.D.


Mangroves, Accretion, Carbon Burial, Sea-Level Rise, Timescale, Everglades


Coastal wetlands are globally important environments for biogeochemical cycling and are the object of intensive research related to the sequestration and exchange of carbon with oceans, continents, and the atmosphere. Wetland soil core records of organic carbon (OC) provide insights about future ecosystem responses to global change by identifying temporal variability in the context of environmental changes including sea level rise (SLR), anthropogenic reductions in freshwater flow, and landscape-scale disturbance events. My studies of Gulf of Mexico mangroves involved the use of radiometrically-dated soil cores to identify spatial and temporal accumulation trends of various constituents including organic and carbonate carbon, and macro-nutrients. My dissertation includes a literature review to assess the timescales of these processes and refine global perspectives on coastal wetland vulnerability.

The contributions of organic and mineral matter to soil accretion (mm yr-1) was measured to (a) quantify how the supply of each may allow regional mangroves to keep pace with various SLR scenarios and, (b) assess wetland carbon sink capacity and stability in southwest Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Mangroves in this region are largely devoid of terrigenous mineral sediments, and it has been hypothesized that storm surge-driven accretion of marine sediments could improve the capability of these locations to keep pace with SLR. Rates of accretion and organic matter accumulation were statistically similar across all four study regions, whereas mineral deposition rates ranged over two orders of magnitude. The volumetric contribution of mineral sediment to accretion is minimized by its high density. Organic matter, whose porous structures allow for highly variable densities, can contribute to a wide range of accretion rates and is a strong predictor of accretion. Future sustainability of these wetlands is more strongly dependent on the balance between soil organic matter production and preservation than the provision of storm-derived mineral sediments.

To understand how OC sequestration will respond to SLR, the spatial and temporal variability of OC burial rates (g m-2 yr-1) were examined across ecosystem gradients in salinity, nutrient availability and mangrove productivity in the coastal Everglades. Results showed relatively little spatial variability and indicated that OC burial in the region is slow compared to rates in mangroves globally. However, significant regional differences in OC burial were observed in the context of primary productivity. Over a centennial timescale, mid-stream sites sequestered roughly 22% of annual net primary production and upstream sites preserved less than 10%. Least efficient sequestration occurs in the oligohaline ecotone, where increases in groundwater salinities and the potential for sulfate reduction have been recorded in the past decade. These findings indicate a significant slowdown in OC burial, and suggest that accelerating SLR will cause a substantial loss of historically sequestered carbon. The loss and potential out-welling of this carbon (including particulate and dissolved organic matter, dissolved CO2, and carbonate alkalinity) has important and complex implications for neighboring marine ecosystems including coral reefs and seagrass meadows.

Several recent high-profile publications have used 5–15 years of soil accumulation rates to model wetland SLR-vulnerability outcomes over the next 50–100 years. To provide perspectives on these models, data that were generated from observations on multiple timescales (sub-annual to millennial) around the globe were used in a meta-analysis to determine the role of observational timescale on assessment outcomes. This analysis focused on rates of accretion and elevation change because of the wide availability of these data. Results demonstrate that rates of soil-body change exhibit a dependence on the length of time over which observations are made. Timescale hierarchies are driven by post-depositional diagenesis, ecosystem state changes, and regional effects primarily related to hydrology and sediment supply. Longer periods of observation utilizing multiple geochronological methods are needed to differentiate trend-changes from apparent changes that, in fact, may be due to regular periodicity. A conceptual model is presented that categorizes and explains timescale hierarchies in a soil’s geochemical history.

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