Amplified Impact of Climate Change on Fine-Sediment Delivery to a Subsiding Coast, Humboldt Bay, California

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In Humboldt Bay, tectonic subsidence exacerbates sea-level rise (SLR). To build surface elevations and to keep pace with SLR, the sediment demand created by subsidence and SLR must be balanced by an adequate sediment supply. This study used an ensemble of plausible future scenarios to predict potential climate change impacts on suspended-sediment discharge (Qss) from fluvial sources. Streamflow was simulated using a deterministic water-balance model, and Qss was computed using statistical sediment-transport models. Changes relative to a baseline period (1981–2010) were used to assess climate impacts. For local basins that discharge directly to the bay, the ensemble means projected increases in Qss of 27% for the mid-century (2040–2069) and 58% for the end-of-century (2070–2099). For the Eel River, a regional sediment source that discharges sediment-laden plumes to the coastal margin, the ensemble means projected increases in Qss of 53% for the mid-century and 99% for the end-ofcentury. Climate projections of increased precipitation and streamflow produced amplified increases in the regional sediment supply that may partially or wholly mitigate sediment demand caused by the combined effects of subsidence and SLR. This finding has important implications for coastal resiliency. Coastal regions with an increasing sediment supply may be more resilient to SLR. In a broader context, an increasing sediment supply from fluvial sources has global relevance for communities threatened by SLR that are increasingly building resiliency to SLR using sediment-based solutions that include regional sediment management, beneficial reuse strategies, and marsh restoration.

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