Saltmarsh blue carbon accumulation rates and their relationship with sea-level rise on a multi-decadal timescale in northern England

Catrina Gore, W. Roland Gehrels, Craig Smeaton, Luke Andrews, Lucy McMahon, Fiona Hibbert, William E. N. Austin, Stefanie Nolte, Ed Garrett

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Saltmarshes are widely thought to sequester carbon at rates significantly exceeding those found in terrestrial environments. This ability arises from the in-situ production of plant biomass and the effective trapping and storage of both autochthonous and allochthonous organic carbon. The role saltmarshes play in climate change mitigation, through accumulating ‘blue’ carbon, depends on both the rate at which carbon accumulates within sediments and the rapidity with which carbon is remineralised. It has been hypothesised that carbon accumulation rates, in turn, depend on the local rate of relative sea-level rise, with faster sea-level rise providing more accommodation space for carbon storage. This relationship has been investigated over long (millennial) and short (decadal) timescales but without accounting for the impact of higher quantities of labile carbon in more recently deposited sediment. This study addresses these three key aspects in a saltmarsh sediment study from Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve (NNR), northern England, where there is a comparatively pristine marsh. We quantify rates of carbon accumulation by combining a Bayesian age-depth model based on 210Pb and 137Cs activities with centimetre-resolution organic carbon density measurements. We also use thermogravimetric analyses to determine the relative proportions of labile and recalcitrant organic matter and calculate the net recalcitrant organic matter accumulation rate. Results indicate that during the 20th century more carbon accumulated at the Lindisfarne NNR saltmarsh during decades with relatively high rates of sea-level rise. The post-depositional loss of labile carbon down the core results in a weaker though still significant relationship between recalcitrant organic matter accumulation and sea-level change. Thus, that increasing saltmarsh carbon accumulation is driven by higher rates of sea-level rise is demonstrated over recent multi-decadal timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108665
JournalEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date4 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Cs sediment dating
  • Pb sediment dating
  • Chronology
  • Labile
  • Recalcitrant
  • Thermogravimetric analysis

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