Modeling the biogeomorphic development of a tidal marsh restoration project

Tidal marshes are complex ecosystems where tidal currents, sediments and vegetation closely interact to shape fascinating landscapes and provide valuable ecosystem services, such as protection of coastal settlements against storm impacts, nursery grounds for fishes or carbon sequestration.


Aerial picture: Het Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe, along the Western Scheldt in the southwest Netherlands (source:

Predicting the evolution of tidal marshes requires complex numerical methods to couple hydrodynamics, morphodynamics and vegetation dynamics, which all operate at very different temporal (hours to decades) and spatial scales (meters to kilometers).

In this project, we have developed a novel approach to predict the evolution of Hedwige and Prosper polders, an agricultural area of 465 ha along the Western Scheldt, at the Belgian/Dutch border, which will be restored into estuarine nature in the coming years (more information).

Short video summarizing our results (in Dutch) here.


Animation: one of our predictions for the evolution of Hedwige and Prosper polders, after de-embankment.

Related publications

C. Schwarz, O. Gourgue, J. van Belzen, Z. Zhu, T.J. Bouma, J. Van de Koppel, G. Ruessink, N. Claude and S. Temmerman. Self-organization of a biogeomorphic landscape controlled by plant life-history traits. Nature Geoscience, 11:672-677, 2018.

O. Gourgue, J. van Belzen, C. Schwarz, T.J. Bouma, J. van de Koppel, S. Temmerman. A convolution method to assess subgrid-scale interactions between flow and patchy vegetation in biogeomorphic models. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, 13:e2020MS002116, 2021.

H. Cao, Z. Zhu, J. van Belzen, O. Gourgue, J. van de Koppel, S. Temmerman, P.M.J. Herman, L. Zhang, L. Yuan, T.J. Bouma. Salt marsh establishment in poorly consolidated muddy systems: effects of surface drainage, elevation, and plant age. Ecosphere, 12:e03755, 2021.

In collaboration with

Stijn Temmerman (University of Antwerp, Belgium)
Johan van de Koppel (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research)
Jim van Belzen (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research & University of Antwerp)
Christian Schwarz (now at University of Delaware, DE, USA)

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