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Saltwater intrusion and sea level rise threatens U.S. rural coastal landscapes and communities

January 13, 2024

The United States (U.S.) coastal plain is subject to rising sea levels, land subsidence, more severe coastal storms, and more intense droughts. These changes lead to inputs of marine salts into freshwater-dependent coastal systems, creating saltwater intrusion. The penetration of salinity into the coastal interior is exacerbated by groundwater extraction and the high density of agricultural canals and ditches throughout much of the rural U.S. landscape. Together saltwater intrusion and sea level rise (SWISLR) create substantial changes to the social-ecological systems situated along the coastal plain. Many scholars and practitioners are engaged in studying and managing SWISLR impacts on social, economic, and ecological systems. However, most efforts are localized and disconnected, despite a widespread desire to understand this common threat. In addition to variable rates of sea level rise across the U.S. outer coastal plain, differences in geomorphic setting, water resources infrastructure and management, and climate extremes are resulting in different patterns of saltwater intrusion. Understanding both the absolute magnitude of this rapid environmental change, and the causes and consequences for its spatial and temporal variation presents an opportunity to build new mechanistic models to link directional climate change to temporally and spatially dynamic socio-environmental impacts. The diverse trajectories of change offer rich opportunities to test and refine modern theories of ecosystem state change in systems with exceptionally strong socioecological feedbacks.

Publication Year 2024
Title Saltwater intrusion and sea level rise threatens U.S. rural coastal landscapes and communities
DOI 10.1016/j.ancene.2024.100427
Authors Kiera O'Donnell, Emily S. Bernhardt, Xi Yang, Ryan Emanuel, Marcelo Ardon, Manuel Lerdau, Alex Manda, Anna Braswell, Todd BenDor, Eric Edwards, Elizabeth Frankenberg, Ashley Helton, John Kominoski, Amy Lesen, Lindsay Naylor, Gregory B. Noe, Kate Tully, Elliott White, Justin Wright
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Anthropocene
Index ID 70250968
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center