Tidal Wetlands

Effects of Climate Change on Tidal Wetlands

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Field experiment on tidal wetlands

Climate change is one the most pressing environmental issues of the 21st century and potential effects include global warming, rising sea level and greater inter-annual variability in regional temperature, precipitation and river discharge. Coastal regions, including tidal wetlands, are particularly susceptible to climate change manifested as rising sea level and greater frequency of storms.

We study the effects of rising sea level including submergence, salt water intrusion, and changing freshwater river flows on delivery of ecosystem services provided by tidal wetlands. A combination of field experiments, monitoring, and modeling are employed. SALTEx (Seawater Addition Long Term Experiment) is a large-scale replicated field experiment to test the effects of increasing continuous and pulsed salinity on tidal freshwater marsh community structure and ecosystem function. Monitoring involves measurements of wetland structure and function in a tidal freshwater forest whose woody species are highly susceptible to small increases in salinity. Using both mechanistic and landscape modeling, our lab aims to predict changes in tidal wetland migration, habitat and ecosystem services in response to sea level rise and changing freshwater and sediment discharge. Our work is supported by NSF through the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program and a region-wide (east coast) NSF grant to researchers at Villanova University, University of South Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth University and Indiana University.