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Predicting coastal retreat in the Florida Big Bend region of the Gulf Coast under climate change induced sea-level rise

June 1, 2003

Many wildlife preserves and refuges in coastal areas of our nation are slowly being inundated by rising sea-level. Land elevation and tidal flooding are key factors controlling the extent and zonation of coastal habitats. Warming of our global environment threatens to speed the rate of sea-level rise and perhaps further amplify the detrimental effects of tropical storms, droughts, and lightning fires. A field and modeling study was conducted to determine the current status of emergent vegetation and surficial hydrology and to predict marsh transgression under rising sea-level. Field surveys were conducted to relate vegetation cover and ecotones to surface elevation and tidal inundation. A regional site application of a GIS-based simulation model, WETLANDS, was developed to predict ecosystem response to changing sea-level conditions on a coastal reach of the Big Bend region in northwest Florida. The WETLANDS model contains functional probabilities of community tolerance to flooding conditions that dictate the rate and process of ecological succession and coastal retreat. Map information of hypsography and bathymetry of the study area were digitized and interpolated to construct a digital elevation model. Classified thematic mapper imagery of aquatic and terrestrial habitat at a community level was used to initialize model simulation by vegetative type. Model simulations were generated to predict a likelihood index of habitat change and conversion under different scenarios of sea-level rise. The WETLANDS model was applied to track the process and pattern of coastal inundation over space and time for low, mid, and high sea-level rise projections of 15, 50, and 95 cm over the next century. Model results indicated that major portions of this coastal zone will be permanently inundated by 2100, bringing about a combined migration of marsh habitat and displacement of forest habitat. Results show that lowland pine forests will undergo retreat on the order of thousands of hectares over the 21st century. Coastal marsh extent may actually increase slightly as a function of the low lying topography. Socioeconomic implications may be nominal for this area given its remote and fairly undeveloped and protected coast-202 line. The model offers a technological tool for research and policy purposes that allows for effective land and water management, risk assessment, and cumulative impact analysis of wetland systems and landscapes.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Predicting coastal retreat in the Florida Big Bend region of the Gulf Coast under climate change induced sea-level rise
Authors Thomas W. Doyle, Richard H. Day, Janelda M. Biagas
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70201524
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center