Science Center Objects

Wetlands play many important roles in the environment including water purification, flood prevention, stabilizing shorelines, and serve as habitat for fish, shellfish, waterfowl and other wildlife.  We work with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Park Service and other federal and state land managers that are charged with managing our nation’s wetlands to ensure these habitats are productive and serve their many purposes well.  Our scientists assist these land managers by answering such questions as “What is the current status of my park’s salt marshes?” and “What management actions would improve their function?”

Collecting measurements from SET

SET – MH Station: Reading a surface elevation table – marker horizon (SET – MH) station in a Jamaica Bay, NY salt marsh. (Public domain.)


Surface Elevation Table

The Surface Elevation Table (SET) is a portable mechanical leveling device for measuring the relative elevation change of wetland sediments. This website presents information on the purpose, design, and use of the SET. The website is specifically designed to be a forum for researchers in wetland science who use or might use the device and to offer more information about the proper use of the SET and interpretation of its data. But we encourage anyone who wants to learn more about research techniques and their development to visit the site as well.






Salt marsh hydrologic measurement

Measuring groundwater level in shallow salt marsh wells. (Public domain.)


Development of a Multimetric Index for Integrated Assessment of Salt Marsh Condition in the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network

The integrity and sustainability of salt marshes in National Park units of the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network (NCBN) are severely threatened by human activities. These marshes provide critical fish and wildlife habitat and essential ecosystem services in the northeastern coastal zone, and are a high priority for NCBN Vital Signs monitoring. Biennial monitoring of nekton (i.e., fish and free-swimming crustaceans) and vegetation has been conducted in NCBN parks since 2008. There is now a critical need for tools to integrate Vital Signs measures in a way that allows assessment of the overall condition of park salt marshes.




A hardened shoreline (rip-rap revetment)

Shorelines hardened with rocks or bulkheads have become a common site in the Chesapeake Bay. Yet, the implications of these changes are largely unknown. (Public domain.)


Shoreline Changes and Impacts to Natural Resources in Chesapeake Bay

Climate change and sea level rise are expected to affect many miles of shoreline in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast in the coming years. In this scenario, federal and state agencies need to make more detailed assessments of how different watersheds and shoreline types might influence an array of ecosystem functions and components. Recently, most states are promoting “living shorelines” (soft engineering with marsh vegetation) rather than hardening methods (riprap or bulkheads) to cope with sea level rise and erosion. Not all methods can effectively be applied in all locations; therefore both field and modeling approaches are needed to determine how different shoreline types and watershed conditions influence water quality, submerged vegetation (SAV), and macrofauna, including top-level trophic waterbirds.



Salt marsh nekton monitoring

Throw trap in a salt marsh pool at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. (Public domain.)




Use of Structured Decision Making to Optimize Salt Marsh Management Decisions at Northeastern National Wildlife Refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) needs tools to inform decisions regarding the management and restoration of salt marsh ecosystems on northeastern National Wildlife Refuges. Previously, we developed a structured decision making (SDM) framework for optimizing refuge management decisions. This SDM framework served as the foundation for FWS to implement a consistent approach to monitoring salt marsh integrity on refuges throughout the region, in which the monitoring variables are linked explicitly to management goals. Monitoring data now exist to provide the basis for prioritizing local management options.

Sea -level Rise and Marsh Grass Research

(Public domain.)





Improving Our Ability to Forecast Tidal Marsh Response to Sea Level Rise

Accelerations in sea-level rise and changing environmental stressors have important implications for the integrity of coastal wetlands and for efforts to restore and protect the ecosystem services they provide. Their persistence and adaptation to these stressors depends on the net effects of changes in physical processes and biotic responses. Future planning by decision makers will require scientifically sound forecasts of potential impacts, knowledge of sea-level rise thresholds, and indications of the potential effectiveness of various adaptation strategies.

Ditcher in Marsh

This machine is excavating the marsh as a means to control the habitat and limit its utility to mosquitos. (Public domain.)





Coastal Salt Marsh Management Along the Atlantic

A number of coastal states have been altering marshes for mosquito control since the early 1900s, but for the past four decades, changes have been made in the methods used to alter high-marsh environments. However, in most states, research and monitoring activities are still needed to inform the management methods employed. Although modern Open Marsh Water Management (OMWM) methods, including pond and radial ditch creation, have reduced mosquito populations in most areas, questions remain about the overall ecosystem impacts of these alterations.