29 Sep 2023
 | 29 Sep 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

The dynamics of marsh-channel slump blocks: an observational study using repeated drone imagery

Zhicheng Yang, Clark Alexander, and Merryl Alber

Abstract. Slump blocks are widely distributed features along marsh shorelines that can play an important role in marsh dynamics. However, little is known about their spatial distribution patterns, nor their longevity and movement. We employed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to track slump blocks in 11 monthly images (March 2020–March 2021) of Dean Creek, a tidal creek surrounded by salt marsh located on Sapelo Island (GA, USA).  Slump blocks were observed along both convex and concave banks of the creek in all images, with sizes between 0.03 and 72.51 m2. Although the majority of blocks were categorized as persistent, there were also new blocks in each image. Most blocks were lost through submergence, and both decreased in area and moved towards the center of the channel over time. However, some blocks reconnected to the marsh platform, which has not been previously observed. These blocks were initially larger and located closer to the marsh edge than those that submerged, and increased in area over time. Only 13 out of a cohort of 61 newly created blocks observed in May 2020 remained after 5 months, suggesting that most blocks persist for only a short time. When taken together, the total area of new slump blocks was 886.13 m2 and that of reconnected blocks was 652.45 m2. This resulted in a net expansion of the channel by 233.68 m2 over the study period, accounting for about 66 % of the overall increase in the channel area of Dean Creek, and suggests that slump block processes play an important role in tidal creek channel widening. This study illustrates the power of repeated UAV surveys to monitor short-term geomorphological processes, such as slump block formation and loss, to provide new insights into marsh eco-geomorphological processes.

Zhicheng Yang et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2023-180', Anonymous Referee #1, 06 Nov 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2023-180', Anonymous Referee #2, 26 Nov 2023

Zhicheng Yang et al.

Zhicheng Yang et al.


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Short summary
We used repeat UAV imagery to study the spatial and temporal dynamics of slump blocks in a Georgia salt marsh. Although slump blocks are common in marshes, tracking them with the UAV provided novel insights. Blocks are highly dynamic, with new blocks appearing in each image while some are lost. Most blocks were lost by submergence, but we report for the first time their reconnection to the marsh platform. We also found that slump blocks can be an important contributor to creek widening.