Incorporating Future Change into Current Conservation Planning: Evaluating Wetland Migration along the Gulf of Mexico under Alternative Sea-Level Rise and Urbanization Scenarios

Science Center Objects

More than half of contiguous U.S. coastal wetlands are located along the Gulf of Mexico coast. These highly-productive wetlands support many ecosystem goods and services and fish and wildlife habitat. Historically, coastal wetlands have adapted to sea-level changes via lateral and vertical movement on the landscape. As sea levels rise in the future, coastal wetlands will adapt and migrate landward into undeveloped low-lying areas where migration corridors exist. However, where natural and human-created barriers are present, coastal wetland loss is likely. 

Incorporating Future Change into Current Conservation Planning: Evaluating Wetland Migration along the Gulf of Mexico under Alte

Historically, coastal wetlands have adapted to sea-level changes by lateral and vertical movement on the landscape. 

The Science Issue and Relevance: Given the potential for accelerated sea-level rise and continued coastal growth and development, how can we improve efforts to sustain or manage the natural and cultural resources provided by coastal wetlands for current and future generations? This is a question that coastal natural resource managers and regional planners are often challenged to answer. More than half of contiguous U.S. coastal wetlands are located along the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) coast. In addition to supporting fish and wildlife habitat, these highly-productive wetlands support many ecosystem goods and services. Historically, coastal wetlands have adapted to sea-level fluctuations via lateral and vertical movement on the landscape. As sea levels rise in the future, coastal wetlands will adapt and migrate landward into undeveloped low-lying areas where migration corridors exist. However, where natural and anthropogenic barriers are present (e.g., natural bluffs and seawalls, respectively), coastal wetland loss is likely. In order to ensure that future generations have access to the ecosystem goods and services provided by GOM coastal wetlands, natural resource managers and planners need a region-wide dataset tool that will aid coastal conservation planning efforts and help identify priority conservation areas for enabling coastal wetland migration landward under a suite of shared region-wide sea-level rise and future urbanization scenarios. Such information can be used to minimize the future loss of wetlands and ecosystem goods and services.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Geospatial data will be used to address the following questions: (1) In which currently upland and/or freshwater wetland areas is landward migration of tidal saline wetlands likely to occur under alternative sea-level rise scenarios? Where are migration corridors located and how much area is available for migration? (2) Which of these migration corridors are currently urban or projected to be urban in the future? Such areas are likely to contain barriers to migration and result in reduced adaptation to rising sea levels. What is the human population of the migration corridors that are currently urban? (3) What is the current land use and land ownership of migration corridors? (4) How connected are future migration corridors to existing tidal saline wetlands in terms of quality and quantity? and (5) How connected are future migration corridors to existing conservation areas and/or public lands?

Future Steps: Data analyses and communication of results.