Modeling Tidal Wetland Resiliency in the Face of Predicted Accelerated Sea-Level Rise

Monday, 15 December 2014
Lisa M Schile, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Edgewater, Edgewater, MD, United States, John Callaway, University of San Francisco, Environmental Studies, San Francisco, CA, United States, James T Morris, University of South Carolina, Baruch Institute, Columbia, SC, United States and Maggi Kelly, University of California Berkeley, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, Berkeley, CA, United States
Tidal wetland ecosystems are dynamic coastal habitats that, in California, often occur at the complex nexus of aquatic environments, diked and leveed baylands, and modified upland habitat. Because of their prime location and rich peat soil, many wetlands have been reduced, degraded, and/or destroyed, and yet their important role in carbon sequestration, nutrient and sediment filtering, and as habitat requires us to further examine their sustainability in light of predicted climate change. Predictions of climate change effects for the San Francisco Bay Estuary present a future with reduced summer freshwater input and increased sea levels. We examined the applicability and accuracy of the Marsh Equilibrium Model (MEM), a zero-dimensional model that models organic and inorganic accretion rates under a given rate of sea-level rise. MEM was calibrated using data collected from salt and brackish marshes in the San Francisco Bay Estuary to examine wetland resiliency under a range of sea-level rise and suspended sediment concentration scenarios. At sea-level rise rates 100 cm/century and lower, wetlands remained vegetated. Once sea levels rise above 100 cm, marshes begin to lose ability to maintain elevation, and the presence of adjacent upland habitat becomes increasingly important for marsh migration. The negative effects of sea-level rise on elevations were compounded as suspended sediment concentrations decreased. Results from this study emphasize that the wetland landscape in the bay is threatened with rising sea levels, and there are a limited number of wetlands that will be able to migrate to higher ground as sea levels rise.