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Potential effects of sea-level rise on coastal wetlands in southeastern Louisiana

January 1, 2013

Coastal Louisiana wetlands contain about 37% of the estuarine herbaceous marshes in the conterminous United States. The long-term stability of coastal wetlands is often a function of a wetland's ability to maintain elevation equilibrium with mean sea level through processes such as primary production and sediment accretion. However, Louisiana has sustained more coastal wetland loss than all other states in the continental United States combined due to a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors, including sea-level rise. This study investigates the potential impact of current and accelerating sea-level rise rates on key coastal wetland habitats in southeastern Louisiana using the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM). Model calibration was conducted using a 1956–2007 observation period and hindcasting results predicted 35% versus observed 39% total marsh loss. Multiple sea-level-rise scenarios were then simulated for the period of 2007–2100. Results indicate a range of potential wetland losses by 2100, from an additional 2,188.97 km2 (218,897 ha, 9% of the 2007 wetland area) under the lowest sea-level-rise scenario (0.34 m), to a potential loss of 5,875.27 km2 (587,527 ha, 24% of the 2007 wetland area) in the highest sea-level-rise scenario (1.9 m). Model results suggest that one area of particular concern is the potential vulnerability of the region's baldcypress-water tupelo (Taxodium distichum-Nyssa aquatica) swamp habitat, much of which is projected to become permanently flooded (affecting regeneration) under all modeled scenarios for sea-level rise. These findings will aid in the development of ecosystem management plans that support the processes and conditions that result in sustainable coastal ecosystems.

Publication Year 2013
Title Potential effects of sea-level rise on coastal wetlands in southeastern Louisiana
DOI 10.2112/SI63-0017.1
Authors Patty Glick, Jonathan Clough, Amy Polaczyk, Brady R. Couvillion, Brad Nunley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Coastal Research
Index ID 70121488
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wetlands Research Center