Are Coastal Marshes Drowning Faster Than Expected?


Researchers from Texas A&M and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences discovered that sea levels are rising at rates that are close to a tipping point for widespread marsh drowning.

Salt marshes are a fundamental habitat for fishes and birds, can capture and bury large quantities of organic carbon, and play an important role in protecting coastal communities from storm surges. Comprised of a delicate balance of just enough organic and inorganic deposit to keep them above water, coastal marshes are home to a rich variety of plants and animals.

But with sea levels rising at an accelerated rate, these vital ecosystems are drowning.

Orencio Duran Vinent, assistant professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University, and his team have discovered that rising water levels do not need to outpace the average growth of salt marshes for them to be swallowed by the sea. Instead, it is enough for water levels to increase at a rate slightly higher than the slower-growing areas within the marsh to lead to widespread drowning. The team found, through computational and analytical modeling, that the traditional approach to combating marsh drowning may not be the most effective for the ongoing preservation of these coastal ecosystems.

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