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Modelling the effects of sediment compaction on salt marsh reconstructions of recent sea-level rise

Brain, M.J.; Long, A.J; Woodroffe, S.A.; Petley, D.N.; Milledge, D.G.; Parnell, A.C.

Modelling the effects of sediment compaction on salt marsh reconstructions of recent sea-level rise Thumbnail


D.N. Petley

D.G. Milledge

A.C. Parnell


This paper quantifies the potential influence of sediment compaction on the magnitude of nineteenth and twentieth century sea-level rise, as reconstructed from salt marsh sediments. We firstly develop a database of the physical and compression properties of low energy intertidal and salt marsh sediments. Key compression parameters are controlled by organic content (loss on ignition), though compressibility is modulated by local-scale processes, notably the potential for desiccation of sediments. Using this database and standard geotechnical theory, we use a numerical modelling approach to generate and subsequently ‘decompact’ a range of idealised intertidal stratigraphies. We find that compression can significantly contribute to reconstructed accelerations in recent sea level, notably in transgressive stratigraphies. The magnitude of this effect can be sufficient to add between 0.1 and 0.4 mm yr−1 of local sea-level rise, depending on the thickness of the stratigraphic column. In contrast, records from shallow (<0.5 m) uniform-lithology stratigraphies, or shallow near-surface salt marsh deposits in regressive successions, experience negligible compaction. Spatial variations in compression could be interpreted as ‘sea-level fingerprints’ that might, in turn, be wrongly attributed to oceanic or cryospheric processes. However, consideration of existing sea-level records suggests that this is not the case and that compaction cannot be invoked as the sole cause of recent accelerations in sea level inferred from salt marsh sediments.


Brain, M., Long, A., Woodroffe, S., Petley, D., Milledge, D., & Parnell, A. (2012). Modelling the effects of sediment compaction on salt marsh reconstructions of recent sea-level rise. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 345-348, 180-193.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 1, 2012
Deposit Date Jun 25, 2012
Publicly Available Date May 13, 2014
Journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Print ISSN 0012-821X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 345-348
Pages 180-193
Keywords Compaction, Compression, Salt marsh, Sea-level acceleration.


Accepted Journal Article (2.1 Mb)

Copyright Statement
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 345–348, 2012, 10.1016/j.epsl.2012.06.045.

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