Pedogenesis, Inventory, and Utilization of Subaqueous Soils in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland

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Chincoteague Bay is the largest (19,000 ha) of Maryland's inland coastal bays bounded by Assateague Island to the east and the Maryland mainland to the west. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Ocean City inlet to the north and the Chincoteague inlet to the south. Water depth ranges mostly from 1.0 to 2.5 meters mean sea level (MSL). The objectives of this study were to identify the subaqueous landforms, evaluate the suitability of existing subaqueous soil-landscape models, develop a soils map, and demonstrate the usefulness of subaqueous soils information.

Bathymetric data collected by the Maryland Geological Survey in 2003 were used to generate a digital elevation model (DEM) of Chincoteague Bay. The DEM was used, in conjunction with false color infrared photography to identify subaqueous landforms based on water depth, slope, landscape shape, depositional environment, and geographical setting (proximity to other landforms). The eight such landforms identified were barrier cove, lagoon bottom, mainland cove, paleo-flood tidal delta, shoal, storm-surge washover fan flat, storm-surge washover fan slope, and submerged headland. Previously established soil-landscape models were evaluated and utilized to create a soils map of the area. 

Soil profile descriptions were collected at 163 locations throughout Chincoteague Bay. Pedons representative of major landforms were characterized for a variety of chemical, physical and mineralogical properties. Initially classification using Soil Taxonomy (Soil Survey Staff, 2006) identified the major soils as Typic Sulfaquents, Haplic Sulfaquents, Sulfic Hydraquents, and Thapto-Histic Sulfaquents.  Using a proposed modification to Soil Taxonomy designed to better accommodate subaqueous soils with the new suborder of Wassents, soils of Chincoteague Bay were primarily classified as Fluvic Sulfiwassents, Haplic Sulfiwassents, Thapto-Histic Sulfiwassents, Sulfic Hydrowassents, and Sulfic Psammowassents.

To illustrate the application of subaqueous soils information, the suitability of soils for submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) habitat was assessed, based upon past and current growth patterns in Chincoteague Bay and sediment properties known to affect SAV establishment and growth. The refined soil-landscape models and extensive soil characterization obtained in this study have advanced our understanding of subaqueous soils in coastal lagoon systems, and should prove valuable to coastal specialists managing these critical resources.