U.S. Pacific coastal wetland resilience and vulnerability to sea-level rise.
ABSTRACT: We used a first-of-its-kind comprehensive scenario approach to evaluate both the vertical and horizontal response of tidal wetlands to projected changes in the rate of sea-level rise (SLR) across 14 estuaries along the Pacific coast of the continental United States. Throughout the U.S. Pacific region, we found that tidal wetlands are highly vulnerable to end-of-century submergence, with resulting extensive loss of habitat. Using higher-range SLR scenarios, all high and middle marsh habitats were lost, with 83% of current tidal wetlands transitioning to unvegetated habitats by 2110. The wetland area lost was greater in California and Oregon (100%) but still severe in Washington, with 68% submerged by the end of the century. The only wetland habitat remaining at the end of the century was low marsh under higher-range SLR rates. Tidal wetland loss was also likely under more conservative SLR scenarios, including loss of 95% of high marsh and 60% of middle marsh habitats by the end of the century. Horizontal migration of most wetlands was constrained by coastal development or steep topography, with just two wetland sites having sufficient upland space for migration and the possibility for nearly 1:1 replacement, making SLR threats particularly high in this region and generally undocumented. With low vertical accretion rates and little upland migration space, Pacific coast tidal wetlands are at imminent risk of submergence with projected rates of rapid SLR.
Project description:Sea Level Rise (SLR) caused by climate change is impacting coastal wetlands around the globe. Due to their distinctive biophysical characteristics and unique plant communities, freshwater tidal wetlands are expected to exhibit a different response to SLR as compared with the better studied salt marshes. In this study we employed the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM), which simulates regional- or local-scale changes in tidal wetland habitats in response to SLR, and adapted it for application in a freshwater-dominated tidal river system, the Hudson River Estuary. Using regionally-specific estimated ranges of SLR and accretion rates, we produced simulations for a spectrum of possible future wetland distributions and quantified the projected wetland resilience, migration or loss in the HRE through the end of the 21st century. Projections of total wetland extent and migration were more strongly determined by the rate of SLR than the rate of accretion. Surprisingly, an increase in net tidal wetland area was projected under all scenarios, with newly-formed tidal wetlands expected to comprise at least 33% of the HRE's wetland area by year 2100. Model simulations with high rates of SLR and/or low rates of accretion resulted in broad shifts in wetland composition with widespread conversion of high marsh habitat to low marsh, tidal flat or permanent inundation. Wetland expansion and resilience were not equally distributed through the estuary, with just three of 48 primary wetland areas encompassing >50% of projected new wetland by the year 2100. Our results open an avenue for improving predictive models of the response of freshwater tidal wetlands to sea level rise, and broadly inform the planning of conservation measures of this critical resource in the Hudson River Estuary.
Project description:Tidal wetlands experiencing increased rates of sea-level rise (SLR) must increase rates of soil elevation gain to avoid permanent conversion to open water. The maximal rate of SLR that these ecosystems can tolerate depends partly on mineral sediment deposition, but the accumulation of organic matter is equally important for many wetlands. Plant productivity drives organic matter dynamics and is sensitive to global change factors, such as rising atmospheric CO(2) concentration. It remains unknown how global change will influence organic mechanisms that determine future tidal wetland viability. Here, we present experimental evidence that plant response to elevated atmospheric [CO(2)] stimulates biogenic mechanisms of elevation gain in a brackish marsh. Elevated CO(2) (ambient + 340 ppm) accelerated soil elevation gain by 3.9 mm yr(-1) in this 2-year field study, an effect mediated by stimulation of below-ground plant productivity. Further, a companion greenhouse experiment revealed that the CO(2) effect was enhanced under salinity and flooding conditions likely to accompany future SLR. Our results indicate that by stimulating biogenic contributions to marsh elevation, increases in the greenhouse gas, CO(2), may paradoxically aid some coastal wetlands in counterbalancing rising seas.
Project description:Tidal marshes will be threatened by increasing rates of sea-level rise (SLR) over the next century. Managers seek guidance on whether existing and restored marshes will be resilient under a range of potential future conditions, and on prioritizing marsh restoration and conservation activities.Building upon established models, we developed a hybrid approach that involves a mechanistic treatment of marsh accretion dynamics and incorporates spatial variation at a scale relevant for conservation and restoration decision-making. We applied this model to San Francisco Bay, using best-available elevation data and estimates of sediment supply and organic matter accumulation developed for 15 Bay subregions. Accretion models were run over 100 years for 70 combinations of starting elevation, mineral sediment, organic matter, and SLR assumptions. Results were applied spatially to evaluate eight Bay-wide climate change scenarios.Model results indicated that under a high rate of SLR (1.65 m/century), short-term restoration of diked subtidal baylands to mid marsh elevations (-0.2 m MHHW) could be achieved over the next century with sediment concentrations greater than 200 mg/L. However, suspended sediment concentrations greater than 300 mg/L would be required for 100-year mid marsh sustainability (i.e., no elevation loss). Organic matter accumulation had minimal impacts on this threshold. Bay-wide projections of marsh habitat area varied substantially, depending primarily on SLR and sediment assumptions. Across all scenarios, however, the model projected a shift in the mix of intertidal habitats, with a loss of high marsh and gains in low marsh and mudflats.Results suggest a bleak prognosis for long-term natural tidal marsh sustainability under a high-SLR scenario. To minimize marsh loss, we recommend conserving adjacent uplands for marsh migration, redistributing dredged sediment to raise elevations, and concentrating restoration efforts in sediment-rich areas. To assist land managers, we developed a web-based decision support tool (www.prbo.org/sfbayslr).
Project description:The ecological functionality of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is threatened by the loss of wetlands which provide staging and wintering sites for migrating waterbirds. The disappearance of wetland ecosystems due to coastal development prevents birds from completing their migrations, resulting in population declines, and even an eventual collapse of the migration phenomenon. Coastal wetlands are also under threat from global climate change and its consequences, notably sea level rise (SLR), extreme storm events, and accompanying wave and tidal surges. The impacts of SLR are compounded by coastal subsidence and decreasing sedimentation, which can result from coastal development. Thus, important wetlands along the flyway should be assessed for the impacts of climate change and coastal subsidence to plan and implement proactive climate adaptation strategies that include habitat migration and possibility of coastal squeeze. We modelled the impacts of climate change and decreasing sedimentation rates on important bird habitats in the Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site to support a climate adaptation strategy that will continue to host migratory birds. Located in the Inner Deep Bay of the Pearl River estuary, Mai Po's tidal flats, coastal mangroves, marshes, and fishponds provide habitat for over 80,000 wintering and passage waterbirds. We applied the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) to simulate habitat conversion under two SLR scenarios (1.5m and 2.0m) for 2050, 2075, and 2100 for four accretion rates (2mm/yr, 4 mm/yr, 8 mm/yr, 15 mm/yr). The results showed no discernible impact to habitats until after 2075, but projections for 2100 show that the mangroves, marshes and tidal flats could be impacted in almost all scenarios of SLR and accretion. Under a 1.5m SLR scenario, even at low tide, if accretion levels decrease to 4 mm/yr, the tidal flats will be inundated and with a 2 mm/yr accretion the mangroves will also be inundated. Thus, important shorebird habitats will be lost. During high tide the ponds inside the nature reserve, which are intensively managed to provide high tide roosting sites and other habitats for waterbirds, will also be inundated. Thus, with a 1.5m SLR and declining sedimentation the migratory shorebirds will lose habitat, including the high tide roosting habitats inside the nature reserve. The model also indicates that the fishponds further inland in the Ramsar site will be less impacted. Most fishponds are privately owned and could be developed in the future, including into high rise apartments; thus, securing them for conservation should be an important climate change adaptation strategy for Mai Po, since they provide essential habitats for birds under future climate change scenarios. But Mai Po is only one steppingstone along the EAAF, and hundreds of other wetlands are also threatened by encroaching infrastructure and climate change. Thus, similar analyses for the other wetlands are recommended to develop a flyway-wide climate-adaptation conservation strategy before available options become lost to wetland conversion.
Project description:Suisun Marsh (Solano County, California) is the largest contiguous marsh remaining on the West Coast of the United States, and makes up approximately 10% of the wetlands remaining in the San Francisco Estuary. Suisun Marsh has been safeguarded from development through the operation of over 100 privately owned waterfowl hunting clubs, which manage for diked waterfowl habitat. However, this management-and the subsequent loss of tidal influence-has been considered harmful for some species, including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (SMHM; Reithrodontomys raviventris). To determine the value of tidal wetlands relative to those managed for waterfowl, we performed periodic surveys for rodents in managed and tidal wetlands over 5 years, and used capture-mark-recapture analyses to estimate demographic parameters and abundance for the three most common rodents-the northern SMHM (R. r. halicoetes), the western harvest mouse (a sympatric native species; R. megalotis, WHM), and the house mouse (a sympatric invasive species; Mus musculus). Wetland type had no effect on detection, temporary emigration, or survival for any of these species. However, fecundity and population growth for all three species were affected by an interaction of season and wetland type, although none of these parameters was consistently superior in either habitat type. Estimated abundance of SMHM and Mus was similar in both wetland types, whereas WHM were more abundant in managed wetlands. Salt marsh harvest mice also showed no affinity for any microhabitat characteristics associated with tidal wetlands. Managed wetlands in Suisun Marsh support SMHM and Mus equally, and abundances of WHM were greater than in tidal wetlands, suggesting managed wetlands may be superior in terms of supporting native rodents. As climate change and sea level rise are predicted to threaten coastal marshes, these results suggest the recovery strategy for SMHM could incorporate managed wetlands.
Project description:Climate change driven Sea Level Rise (SLR) is creating a major global environmental crisis in coastal ecosystems, however, limited practical solutions are provided to prevent or mitigate the impacts. Here, we propose a novel eco-engineering solution to protect highly valued vegetated intertidal ecosystems. The new 'Tidal Replicate Method' involves the creation of a synthetic tidal regime that mimics the desired hydroperiod for intertidal wetlands. This synthetic tidal regime can then be applied via automated tidal control systems, "SmartGates", at suitable locations. As a proof of concept study, this method was applied at an intertidal wetland with the aim of restabilising saltmarsh vegetation at a location representative of SLR. Results from aerial drone surveys and on-ground vegetation sampling indicated that the Tidal Replicate Method effectively established saltmarsh onsite over a 3-year period of post-restoration, showing the method is able to protect endangered intertidal ecosystems from submersion. If applied globally, this method can protect high value coastal wetlands with similar environmental settings, including over 1,184,000 ha of Ramsar coastal wetlands. This equates to a saving of US$230 billion in ecosystem services per year. This solution can play an important role in the global effort to conserve coastal wetlands under accelerating SLR.
Project description:Effective conservation and restoration of estuarine wetlands require accurate maps of their historical and current extent, as well as estimated losses of these valued habitats. Existing coast-wide tidal wetland mapping does not explicitly map historical tidal wetlands that are now disconnected from the tides, which represent restoration opportunities; nor does it use water level models or high-resolution elevation data (e.g. lidar) to accurately identify current tidal wetlands. To better inform estuarine conservation and restoration, we generated new maps of current and historical tidal wetlands for the entire contiguous U.S. West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California). The new maps are based on an Elevation-Based Estuary Extent Model (EBEEM) that combines lidar digital elevation models (DEMs) and water level models to establish the maximum historical extent of tidal wetlands, representing a major step forward in mapping accuracy for restoration planning and analysis of wetland loss. Building from this new base, we also developed an indirect method for mapping tidal wetland losses, and created maps of these losses for 55 estuaries on the West Coast (representing about 97% of historical West Coast vegetated tidal wetland area). Based on these new maps, we estimated that total historical estuary area for the West Coast is approximately 735,000 hectares (including vegetated and nonvegetated areas), and that about 85% of vegetated tidal wetlands have been lost from West Coast estuaries. Losses were highest for major river deltas. The new maps will help interested groups improve action plans for estuarine wetland habitat restoration and conservation, and will also provide a better baseline for understanding and predicting future changes with projected sea level rise.
Project description:Although saline tidal wetlands cover less than a fraction of one percent of the earth's surface (~0.01%), they efficiently sequester organic carbon due to high rates of primary production coupled with surfaces that aggrade in response to sea level rise. Here, we report on multi-decadal changes (1972-2008) in the extent of tidal marshes and mangroves, and characterize soil carbon density and source, for five regions of tidal wetlands located on Baja California's Pacific coast. Land-cover change analysis indicates the stability of tidal wetlands relative to anthropogenic and climate change impacts over the past four decades, with most changes resulting from natural coastal processes that are unique to arid environments. The disturbance of wetland soils in this region (to a depth of 50 cm) would liberate 2.55 Tg of organic carbon (C) or 9.36 Tg CO?eq. Based on stoichiometry and carbon stable isotope ratios, the source of organic carbon in these wetland sediments is derived from a combination of wetland macrophyte, algal, and phytoplankton sources. The reconstruction of natural wetland dynamics in Baja California provides a counterpoint to the history of wetland destruction elsewhere in North America, and measurements provide new insights on the control of carbon sequestration in arid wetlands.
Project description:Coastal wetlands are large reservoirs of soil carbon (C). However, the annual C accumulation rates contributing to the C storage in these systems have yet to be spatially estimated on a large scale. We synthesized C accumulation rate (CAR) in tidal wetlands of the conterminous United States (US), upscaled the CAR to national scale, and predicted trends based on climate change scenarios. Here, we show that the mean CAR is 161.8?±?6 g?Cm<sup>-2?</sup>yr<sup>-1</sup>, and the conterminous US tidal wetlands sequestrate 4.2-5.0 Tg C yr<sup>-1</sup>. Relative sea level rise (RSLR) largely regulates the CAR. The tidal wetland CAR is projected to increase in this century and continue their C sequestration capacity in all climate change scenarios, suggesting a strong resilience to sea level rise. These results serve as a baseline assessment of C accumulation in tidal wetlands of US, and indicate a significant C sink throughout this century.
Project description:Wetlands are among the most productive and economically valuable ecosystems in the world. However, because of human activities, over half of the wetland ecosystems existing in North America, Europe, Australia, and China in the early 20th century have been lost. Ecological restoration to recover critical ecosystem services has been widely attempted, but the degree of actual recovery of ecosystem functioning and structure from these efforts remains uncertain. Our results from a meta-analysis of 621 wetland sites from throughout the world show that even a century after restoration efforts, biological structure (driven mostly by plant assemblages), and biogeochemical functioning (driven primarily by the storage of carbon in wetland soils), remained on average 26% and 23% lower, respectively, than in reference sites. Either recovery has been very slow, or postdisturbance systems have moved towards alternative states that differ from reference conditions. We also found significant effects of environmental settings on the rate and degree of recovery. Large wetland areas (>100 ha) and wetlands restored in warm (temperate and tropical) climates recovered more rapidly than smaller wetlands and wetlands restored in cold climates. Also, wetlands experiencing more (riverine and tidal) hydrologic exchange recovered more rapidly than depressional wetlands. Restoration performance is limited: current restoration practice fails to recover original levels of wetland ecosystem functions, even after many decades. If restoration as currently practiced is used to justify further degradation, global loss of wetland ecosystem function and structure will spread.