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New research supported by the Northeast CASC finds that increased amounts of sediment eroding into the ocean may allow salt marshes to thrive as sea levels rise in a changing climate.

Salt marshes provide critical habitats for commercial fish stocks and migratory birds in addition to protecting coastlines and communities from coastal storms and runoff contaminants.  However, salt marshes might not be completely defenseless in the face of climate change driven sea-level rise. In a recent study supported by the Northeast CASC, researchers found that salt marshes may be able to endure rising sea levels with the help of an unlikely hero: sediment.  

In studying a historical coastal storm with hurricane-force winds, copious amounts of rain, and a ten-foot storm surge, that battered the Massachusetts coast in 1898, researchers found a real-world reference for how salt marshes in Massachusetts could respond to the high tides the region expects to experience with sea-level rise.  

Since salt marshes primarily consist of water, plants and sediment, the research team hypothesized that the high coastal bluffs that border the coast near the North River Estuary they were studying provided an influx of sediment into the ocean due to erosion and settles in nearby salt marshes, allowing the marshes to rebuild and adapt to rising sea levels over time.  

This research on the 1898 storm is increasing researchers’ understanding of how salt marshes may respond to rapid sea level rise and allow stakeholders across New England to better prepare for the effects of climate change on New England’s shorelines.  

This work is supported by the Northeast CASC project, “Effects of Urban Coastal Armoring on Salt Marsh Sediment Supplies and Resilience to Climate Change”. 

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