Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Schoepfer, V. A., E. S. Bernhardt, and A. J. Burgin (2014), Iron clad wetlands: Soil iron-sulfur buffering determines coastal wetland response to salt water incursion, J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci., 119, 2209–2219, doi:10.1002/ 2014JG002739.


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Coastal freshwater wetland chemistry is rapidly changing due to increased frequency of salt water incursion, a consequence of global change. Seasonal salt water incursion introduces sulfate, which microbially reduces to sulfide. Sulfide binds with reduced iron, producing iron sulfide (FeS), recognizable in wetland soils by its characteristic black color. The objective of this study is to document iron and sulfate reduction rates, as well as product formation (acid volatile sulfide (AVS) and chromium reducible sulfide (CRS)) in a coastal freshwater wetland undergoing seasonal salt water incursion. Understanding iron and sulfur cycling, as well as their reduction products, allows us to calculate the degree of sulfidization (DOS), from which we can estimate how long soil iron will buffer against chemical effects of sea level rise. We show that soil chloride, a direct indicator of the degree of incursion, best predicted iron and sulfate reduction rates. Correlations between soil chloride and iron or sulfur reduction rates were strongest in the surface layer (0–3 cm), indicative of surface water incursion, rather than groundwater intrusion at our site. The interaction between soil moisture and extractable chloride was significantly related to increased AVS, whereas increased soil chloride was a stronger predictor of CRS. The current DOS in this coastal plains wetland is very low, resulting from high soil iron content and relatively small degree of salt water incursion. However, with time and continuous salt water exposure, iron will bind with incoming sulfur, creating FeS complexes, and DOS will increase.