I most of my first year walking back and forth in marshes attempting to stay upright and complete the days’ work without mud over-topping my waders. It was an awesome year and it is the year that began my love affair with marshes. I suppose it is natural to become enamored with and perhaps a bit biased in favor of the system that you work in, but in my case I am pretty sure it is justified and correct to say, marshes are the coolest! To be specific my infatuation is with coastal marshes and my direct experiences are limited to marshes on the Pacific Coast (but I am sure marshes on the East Coast are pretty rad too). One of the most intriguing thing about marshes is that they are the interface between two worlds.
Marshes are often at the interface of the urban and natural worlds. When we think of marshes, especially in California, I think that the first image that pops into people’s minds is the small forgotten bits of marsh that you often see from the highway. However, there are larger marshes in California, and many of them are smashed up against urban, often economically disadvantaged areas. For example next time you are driving around East Palo Alto, try checking out Laumeister marsh. Palo Alto may have Stanford University but the marshes of East Palo Alto (Palo Alto's often forgotten neighbor) are home to two federally endangered species and a plethora of wildlife. At sunset I would choose a view of Laumeister marsh teaming with shorebirds and shore crabs over the Stanford quad any day! Check out the photos below as examples of how beautiful marshes are.
Marshes also represent the interface between aquatic and terrestrial systems. Watching a high tide temporarily swallow up a marsh you feel amazed at how many different species have evolved to live in an environment that is not fully terrestrial or aquatic, and it reminds you the delicate balance that must occur for marshes to persist through time. Persistence of a marsh is a balancing act between inputs which increase marsh elevation and keep it partially dry (accretion, organic matter inputs, tectonic uplift) and processes that decrease marsh elevation (erosion, compaction, and subsidence) relative to sea level. The magnitude of these effects can be measured in millimeters a year. If processes that increase marsh elevation outpace those that decrease it, marshes transition into uplands. If processes that decrease marsh elevation outpace marsh inputs, then a marsh can transition to mudflat. The graphic below illustrates the key processes that effect marsh elevation and persistence: accretion, organic matter input, tectonic uplift, erosion, compaction, subsidence and sea-level rise.
This graphic is adapted from a talk by C. Janousek (Oregon State University) for more info check out his blog link
If you are one of the many people who lives near the coast you likely live closer to a marsh then realize. So next time you are aching for a dose of natural beauty and wildlife look no further then your closest marsh. As look out across it remember the intricate dance that is ongoing to maintain that beautiful habitat, and the centuries or millennia of tiny changes of only millimeters per year that have resulted its unique natural history.
Google chrome users: click here to download a RSS extension