Surface elevation dynamics in a regenerating mangrove forest at Homebush Bay, Australia
Following the dieback of an interior portion of a mangrove forest at Homebush Bay, Australia, surface elevation tables and feldspar marker horizons were installed in the impacted, intermediate and control forest to measure vertical accretion, elevation change, and shallow subsidence. The objectives of the study were to determine current vertical accretion and elevation change rates as a guide to understanding mangrove dieback, ascertain the factors controlling surface elevation change, and investigate the sustainability of the mangrove forest under estimated sea-level rise conditions. The study demonstrates that the influences on surface dynamics are more complex than soil accretion and soil autocompaction alone. During strong vegetative regrowth in the impacted forest, surface elevation increase exceeded vertical accretion apparently as a result of belowground biomass production. In addition, surface elevation in all forest zones was correlated with total monthly rainfall during a severe El Niño event, highlighting the importance of rainfall to groundwater recharge and surface elevation. Surface elevation increase for all zones exceeded the 85-year sea level trend for Sydney Harbour. Since mean sea-level also decreased during the El Niño event, the decrease in surface elevation did not translate to an increase in inundation frequency or influence the sustainability of the mangrove forest. These findings indicate that subsurface soil processes such as organic matter accumulation and groundwater flux can significantly influence mangrove surface elevation, and contribute to the long-term sustainability of mangrove systems under a scenario of rising sea levels.