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Estuaries and wetlands provide a critical defense against storms and sea-level rise while providing economically valuable services. How well they protect coastal communities and host diverse ecosystems is largely a function of their shape (morphology), which is controlled by factors such as sediment movement and biological feedbacks.

Aerial images of Black Beach, Falmouth, MA
Products of Structure-from-Motion applied to data collected by UAS in Black Beach, Falmouth, MA(Credit: Emily Sturdivant, Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.)

Measuring parameters such as water velocity, salinity, sediment concentration, dissolved oxygen and other constituents in watersheds, tidal wetlands, estuaries, and coasts is critical for evaluating the socioeconomic and ecological function of those regions. Technological advances have made it possible to autonomously measure these parameters over timescales of weeks to months. These measurements are necessary to evaluate three-dimensional numerical models that can represent the spatial and temporal complexity of these parameters. Once the models adequately represent relevant aspects of the physical system, they can be used to evaluate possible future scenarios including sea-level rise, streamflow changes, land-use modifications, and geomorphic evolution.

USGS staff diving in Chincoteague Bay, MD
Measuring seagrass biomass in Chincoteague Bay, Maryland to constrain numerical models.(Public domain.)

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