Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences/Environmental, Earth & Ocean Sciences

First Advisor

Robert F. Chen

Second Advisor

Crystal Schaaf

Third Advisor

Jennifer Bowen


Blue carbon systems (mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrass beds) sequester large amounts of carbon via primary productivity and sedimentation. Sequestered carbon can be respired back to the atmosphere, buried for long time periods, or exported (“outwelled”) to adjacent ecosystems. This study estimates the total outwelling of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from the Neponset Salt Marsh (Boston, Massachusetts) as well as the major plant and sediment processes contributing to the overall flux. The total export was quantified via high-resolution in situ chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) measurements as a proxy for DOC using 12 years of transect data. Seasonal trends, alternate sources of fresh water, and long-term trends in DOC export will be discussed. To characterize the percentage of this flux attributable to marsh vegetation, the effects of sunlight, anoxia, plant species, biomass type, and microbes on plant leaching were studied using incubations of above- and belowground biomass over four seasons. Seasonal comparisons led to the “Fall Dump” hypothesis in which higher DOC concentrations are leached during the fall when marsh plants senesce for winter. In summing seasonal fluxes from vegetation, approximately 46% of the total DOC export from the marsh may be attributed to leaching from the three dominant plant species in the Neponset Salt Marsh. The influence of seasonality and climate change (e.g., drought) on both overland flow and deep sediment pore water leaching were also investigated. Depending on season and marsh condition, overland flow and sediment pore water leaching combined could contribute 8-16% of the total export from the marsh. Finally, the influence of natural sunlight irradiation and microbes on the release of dissolved organic matter (DOM) from resuspended surface sediments was studied and approximately 11-22% of the total export could be attributable to this flux. Approximately 49 mol C m-2 yr-1 are outwelled from the Neponset Salt Marsh and, using net primary productivity estimates from the literature, 16 ± 12 mol C m-2 yr-1 are buried in the Neponset Salt Marsh.