Science Inventory

Multi-Century Record of Anthropogenic Impacts on an Urbanized Mesotidal Estuary: Salem Sound, MA


Hubeny, J., E. Kristiansen, A. Danikas, J. Zhu, F. McCarthy, M. Cantwell, B. Warren, AND D. Allen. Multi-Century Record of Anthropogenic Impacts on an Urbanized Mesotidal Estuary: Salem Sound, MA. Estuaries and Coasts. Estuarine Research Federation, Port Republic, MD, 41(2):404-420, (2018).


The goal of this study was to determine the extent to which the sediments of an urban estuary (Salem Sound) in New England preserves a long-term record of human alterations to the coastal system. We were able to demonstrate that a multi-pronged approach using dated sediment cores yielded a record of human activity since European colonization that is consistent with the historic record due to the sensitivity of specific measurements to human impacts. Further, we were able to measure the effects of changes to the ecosystem and document recovery of the system associated with conservation practices. We conclude that modern conditions in Salem Sound are improved over those experienced during previous centuries; however, data reveal significant differences between the modern conditions and those of baseline conditions reconstructed from the older portion of the sediment record. This study can serve as a model for the investigation of human-based impacts on other such coastal embayments, including ones with a less robust historic record.


Salem, MA, located north of Boston, has a rich, well-documented history dating back to settlement in 1626 CE, but the associated anthropogenic impacts on Salem Sound are poorly constrained. This project utilized dated sediment cores from the sound to assess the proxy record of anthropogenic alterations to the system and compared the proxy records to the known history. Proxies included bulk stable isotopes of organic matter, magnetic susceptibility, and trace metal concentrations. Our data reveal clear changes in organic matter composition and concentration associated with land use changes and twentieth century sewage disposal practices. Further, metal data correspond with local industrial activity, particularly the historic tanning industry in Peabody, MA. Although conservation practices of past decades have improved the state of Salem Sound, the stratigraphic record demonstrates that the environment is still affected by anthropogenic influences, and has not attained conditions consistent with pre-anthropogenic baseline. The approach and results of this study are applicable to coastal embayments that are being assessed for remediation, especially those with scant historic or monitoring data.

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Record Details:

Product Published Date: 03/01/2018
Record Last Revised: 05/07/2018
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 340655