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Biogeochemical value of managed realignment, Humber estuary, UK

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Disciplines
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Economics

Abstract

We outline a plausible, albeit extreme, managed realignment scenario ('Extended Deep Green' scenario) for a large UK estuary to demonstrate the maximum possible biogeochemical effects and economic outcomes of estuarine management decisions. Our interdisciplinary approach aims to better inform the policy process, by combining biogeochemical and socioeconomic components of managed realignment schemes. Adding 7494 ha of new intertidal area to the UK Humber estuary through managed realignment leads to the annual accumulation of a 1.2 × 105 t of 'new' sediment and increases the current annual sink of organic C and N, and particle reactive P in the estuary by 150%, 83% and 50%, respectively. The increase in intertidal area should also increase denitrification. However, this positive outcome is offset by the negative effect of enhanced greenhouse gas emissions in new marshes in the low salinity region of the estuary. Short-term microbial reactions decrease the potential benefits of CO2 sequestration through gross organic carbon burial by at least 50%. Net carbon storage is thus most effective where oxidation and denitrification reactions are reduced. In the Humber this translates to wet, saline marshes at the seaward end of estuaries. Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) was used to determine the economic efficiency of the Extended Deep Green managed realignment. When compared to a 'Hold-the-Line' future scenario, i.e. the present state/extent of sea defences in the estuary, the CBA shows that managed realignment is cost effective when viewed on > 25 year timescales. This is because capital costs are incurred in the first years, whereas the benefits from habitat creation, carbon sequestration and reduced maintenance costs build up over time. Over 50- and 100-year timescales, the Extended Deep Green managed realignment scenario is superior in efficiency terms. The increased sediment accumulation is also likely to enhance storage of contaminant metals. In the case of Cu, a metal that currently causes significant water quality issues, Cu removal due to burial of suspended sediment in realigned areas translates to a value of approximately £1000 a- 1 (avoided clean up costs). Although this is not formally included in the CBA it illustrates another likely positive economic outcome of managed realignment. Although we focus on the Humber, the history of reclamation and its biogeochemistry is common to many estuaries in northern Europe.

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