Enhanced land subsidence in Galveston Bay, Texas: Interaction between sediment accumulation rates and relative sea level rise
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2018 Elsevier Ltd Galveston Bay is the second largest estuary along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, with a watershed containing one of largest concentrations of petroleum and chemical industries globally, as well as Houston, the fifth largest metropolitan area in the USA. Throughout the last century, extensive groundwater extraction to support these industries and an expanding population has resulted in significantly enhanced land subsidence (0.63.0 cm yr1). The highest subsidence rates observed in the bay are within the lower 15 km of the San Jacinto River/Houston Ship Channel region (SJR/HSC), with distal areas in East and West Galveston Bays having subsidence rates on the order of 0.2 cm yr1. In order to investigate the impacts of subsidence on sedimentation, a series of 22 vibracores were collected throughout the bay, and 210Pb and 137Cs radioisotope geochronologies and grain size distributions were determined. Sediment accumulation rates are highest (1.9 0.5 cm yr1) in the SJR/HSC, and decrease (<0.6 cm yr1) both seaward and towards low subsidence regions. These results indicate sedimentation rates are significantly (p < 0.01) higher in areas with elevated Relative Sea Level Rise (RSLR). However, throughout most of Galveston Bay sedimentation rates are lower (as much as 50%) than estimated RSLR, indicating a sediment accretionary deficit. In areas (e.g., Scott Bay) within the SJR/HSC, the bay has deepened by more than 1.5 m, suggesting that sediment accumulation cannot keep pace with RSLR. Ultimately, this has resulted in a loss of coastal wetlands and a conversion of marine habitats from relatively shallow to deeper water settings.