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Earth Surface Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union

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© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
20 Nov 2013
Review status
This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Earth Surface Dynamics (ESurf). The revised manuscript was not accepted.
Non-linear power law approach for spatial and temporal pattern analysis of salt marsh evolution
A. Taramelli1, L. Cornacchia1,*, E. Valentini1, and F. Bozzeda2 1ISPRA – Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e Ricerca Ambientale, Rome, Italy
2Research Center for Environmental Sciences, Laboratory of Experimental Ecology, University of Bologna, Italy
*now at: Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), P.B. 140, 4400 AC Yerseke, the Netherlands
Abstract. Many complex systems on the Earth surface show non-equilibrium fluctuations, often determining the spontaneous evolution towards a critical state. In this context salt marshes are characterized by complex patterns both in geomorphological and ecological features, which often appear to be strongly correlated.

A striking feature in salt marshes is vegetation distribution, which can self-organize in patterns over time and space. Self-organized patchiness of vegetation can often give rise to power law relationships in the frequency distribution of patch sizes. In cases where the whole distribution does not follow a power law, the variance of scale in its tail may often be disregarded. To this end, the research aims at how changes in the main climatic and hydrodynamic variables may influence such non-linearity, and how numerical thresholds can describe this. Since it would be difficult to simultaneously monitor the presence and typology of vegetation and channel sinuosity through in situ data, and even harder to analyze them over medium to large time-space scales, remote sensing offers the ability to analyze the scale invariance of patchiness distributions.

Here, we focus on a densely vegetated and channelized salt marsh (Scheldt estuary Belgium–the Netherlands) by means of the sub-pixel analysis on satellite images to calculate the non-linearity in the values of the power law exponents due to the variance of scale. The deviation from power laws represents stochastic conditions under climate drivers that can be hybridized on the basis of a fuzzy Bayesian generative algorithm.

The results show that the hybrid approach is able to simulate the non-linearity inherent to the system and clearly show the existence of a link between the autocorrelation level of the target variable (i.e. size of vegetation patches), due to its self-organization properties, and the influence exerted on it by the external drivers (i.e. climate and hydrology).

Considering the results of the stochastic model, high uncertainties can be associated to the short term climate influence on the saltmarshes, and the medium-long term spatial and temporal trends seem to be dominated by vegetation with its evolution in time and space. The evolution of vegetation patches (under power law) and channel sinuosity can then be used to forecast potential deviation from steady states in intertidal systems, taking into account the climatic and hydrological regimes.

Citation: Taramelli, A., Cornacchia, L., Valentini, E., and Bozzeda, F.: Non-linear power law approach for spatial and temporal pattern analysis of salt marsh evolution, Earth Surf. Dynam. Discuss., 1, 1061-1095,, 2013.
A. Taramelli et al.
A. Taramelli et al.


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