The response of coastal wetlands to sea-level rise: Understanding how macroscale drivers influence local processes and feedbacks

Science Center Objects

The purpose of this work is to advance our understanding of how coastal wetland responses to SLR within the conterminous United States are likely to vary as a function of local, regional, and macroscale drivers, including climate. Based on our interactions with managers and decision makers, as well as our knowledge of the current state of the science, we propose to (a) conduct a national synoptic evaluation of coastal elevation change trends using SET data, (b) develop quantitative models of the relationships between climate drivers, wetland foundation species, and ecosystem properties, and (c) examine barriers and opportunities for landward migration of coastal wetlands.

The Challenge: Developing a comprehensive understanding of the future changes anticipated for coastal wetlands at regional and national scales depends on looking across biogeographic, geomorphic, and ecological boundaries. In the United States, almost no attention has been paid to the full suite of coastal wetland types that occur throughout the 12 biogeographic regions of the conterminous coastline. These biogeographic regions and the various plant community types within them are characteristically related to macroscale gradients that can be expected to shift with changes in climate. Combining this information with an understanding of the geomorphic setting of estuaries holds promise for a broader understanding of the heterogeneity in coastal wetland responses to changing environmental parameters. Developing a broad view of the roles of site-specific processes, geomorphic settings, and macroscale drivers that operate across the gradient of coastal environments of the conterminous United States is essential to scaling up assessments of coastal wetland response to SLR. This understanding is critical if we are to guide well-informed decisions related to protection, restoration, and adaptation of coastal wetlands to SLR at the National scale. The need for this research is amplified by the fact that both qualitative changes in coastal wetlands (change in type) and quantitative changes in properties such as structure and productivity have major implications for wildlife habitat management and coastal protection.

The Science:

  1. Developing a broad synthesis of coastal wetland elevation trends for the conterminous United States, identify potential abiotic and biotic drivers, and evaluate quantitative hypotheses about the network of factors controlling observed variations.
  2. Advancing our understanding of the potential influences of climatic drivers and their interactions on coastal wetland ecosystem properties along the geographic gradients of the conterminous United States including their influence on wetland responses to accelerations in SLR.
  3. Examining the potential for landward migration of coastal wetlands for the conterminous United States in response to future climate change scenarios.

The Future: FY2020 is the first year of a 5 Year Funded Project.