Transient coastal landscapes : rising sea level threatens salt marshes

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Valiela, Ivan
Lloret, Javier
Bowyer, Tynan
Miner, Simon
Remsen, David P.
Elmstrom, Elizabeth
Cogswell, Charlotte
Thieler, E. Robert
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Salt marsh loss
Sea level rise
Ecological services
Vegetation mosaics
Coastal squeeze
Salt marshes are important coastal environments that provide key ecological services. As sea level rise has accelerated globally, concerns about the ability of salt marshes to survive submergence are increasing. Previous estimates of likely survival of salt marshes were based on ratios of sea level rise to marsh platform accretion. Here we took advantage of an unusual, long-term (1979-2015), spatially detailed comparison of changes in a representative New England salt marsh to provide an empirical estimate of habitat losses based on actual measurements. We show prominent changes in habitat mosaic within the marsh, consistent and coincident with increased submergence and coastal erosion. Model results suggest that at current rates of sea level rise, marsh platform accretion, habitat loss, and with the limitation of the widespread “coastal squeeze”, the entire ecosystem might disappear by the beginning of the next century, a fate that might be likely for many salt marshes elsewhere.
© The Author(s), 2018. This is the author's version of the work and is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Science of The Total Environment 640-641 (2018): 1148-1156, doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.235.
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