BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Research by Indiana University geologists suggests that an intermediate amount of vegetation -- not too little and not too much -- is most effective at stabilizing freshwater river deltas.
The study, "Optimum vegetation height and density for inorganic sedimentation in deltaic marshes," was published online Aug. 24 by Nature Geoscience. The findings may help guide restoration of river deltas, such as those near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which are under threat as sea levels rise.
Authors are William Nardin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geological Sciences in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences; and Douglas A. Edmonds, who holds the Robert R. Shrock Professorship in Sedimentary Geology and is an assistant professor of geological sciences.
Vegetation on marsh surfaces in river deltas can slow the flow of water and cause more sediment to be deposited, helping prevent sea-level rise from drowning sensitive marshlands. But the study finds that, if the vegetation is too tall or dense, it diverts water into the river channel, resulting in less sediment being deposited on the marsh.
"In river deltas the effect of vegetation on sedimentation seems to follow the Goldilocks principle," Edmonds said. "You want the amount of vegetation that is just right -- not too much, but also not too little."
The world's river deltas are rich and productive and are home to about 10 percent of the world's population. But they are threatened by an array of forces, including population growth, pollution, development and erosion, as well as sea-level rise associated with climate change.
Edmonds wrote in a 2012 Nature Geoscience article that river deltas can be restored, but it will take a better understanding of the processes involved in their formation and destruction. The current study suggests vegetation could play a role in designing effective river delta restorat
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