To achieve sustainable coastal management and planning, the interaction between fine-grained - in particular, vegetated - intertidal environments and incoming waves needs to be better understood. Previous studies have established that wave attenuation over saltmarshes can be significantly greater than over unvegetated intertidal surfaces. However, detailed, quantitative information on the effect of marsh elevation in the tidal frame, marsh width, seaward marsh edge configuration (e.g. cliffed versus ramped marshes), seasonal changes in marsh surface roughness (e.g. creek density, vegetation composition) and incident wave conditions, however, has been lacking. Based on a 10-month-long wave/tide dataset from two sites on the Dengie marshes, eastern England, this study addresses the effect of (i) marsh edge topography; (ii) marsh width; (iii) inundation depths; and (iv) seasonal changes in marsh surface vegetation cover on wave height and wave energy dissipation. Directional waves and water levels were recorded at 21 locations across both shallow-sloping and cliffed (cliff height of ca. 1.5m) intertidal profiles. In addition, changes in marsh surface vegetation cover and composition were recorded on a seasonal basis.
Wave height attenuation over 310m of the shallow-sloping profile averaged 92 % over the monitoring period. Further analysis shows that the most rapid reduction in wave heights occurs over the most seaward 10 meters of permanent saltmarsh vegetation, where wave height attenuation averaged 2.1% and 1.1% per meter at the shallow-sloping and cliffed site respectively. Across the mudflat and the saltmarsh as a whole, wave height dissipation rates were significantly lower with an average of 0.1% and 0.5% per meter respectively. The presence of a saltmarsh cliff increased average wave heights by up to 0.5% per meter. Observed wave height attenuation showed a seasonal pattern at both sites (average wave energy attenuation near the marsh edge was highest in September – November and lowest in March – July) and appears to be linked to the cycle of seasonal vegetation growth.
The study provides criteria for the assessment of the wave dissipation potential of marshes characterised by different widths, edge configurations and slopes, variability of water depths, and seasonal variations in vegetation cover/density.