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Response of a hypersaline salt marsh to a large flood and rainfall event along the west coast of Southern Africa

Response of a hypersaline salt marsh to a large flood and rainfall event along the west coast of Southern Africa

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 87.3

The Orange Estuary lost 27% (276 ha) of its wetland area near the mouth as a result of bad management practices during the 1980s. The salt marsh has been unable to recover over the last 20 years because of the persistently high soil and groundwater salinity. In 2006, a 1 in 5 year flood occurred that completely covered the desertified salt marsh and floodplain with freshwater. The flood was followed by an above average (>45 mm) winter rainfall. Soil and groundwater sampled in April and August 2004 were compared with 2006 data to quantify the impact of the flood and rainfall event. It was hypothesised that the two freshwater events would significantly reduce the soil and groundwater salinity. However, the results showed no significant difference in sediment electrical conductivity throughout the soil profile over the four sampling periods. Soil moisture and organic content however increased significantly after these events in the surface soil layer. The flood deposited silt and scoured sand from the surface layers in significant quantities. The depth to groundwater in the desertified marsh retained a similar pattern after the flood despite 15 cm changes in depth in places. In 2004 a clear groundwater electrical conductivity gradient was present extending from the less saline north part of the marsh (0-15 mS cm(-1) ) to the central part (120-135 mS cm(-1) ) and decreasing again towards the south (60-75 mS cm(-1) ). The flood served to even out the groundwater salinity across the desertified marsh (60-90 mS cm(-1) ). The flood and high rainfall had a limited impact on the soil and groundwater characteristics. The few significant changes that were recorded were mostly restricted to the surface soil layers and on a small spatial scale. The rainfall did however create numerous pools of low salinity (<60 mS cm(-1) ) water on the marsh surface that provided a brief opportunity for salt marsh seeds to germinate. A further benefit of the flood was the increased tidal reach into the desertified marsh importing freshwater from the river mouth and exporting salt. Despite these responses it is unlikely that the hypersaline salt marsh will revegetate naturally. Human intervention is needed to ensure the rehabilitation of this important Ramsar site. Abstract Copyright (2010) Elsevier, B.V.

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Accession: 037145194

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DOI: 10.1016/j.ecss.2010.01.024

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