U.S. wetlands in climate change risk

Dec. 1, 2010 at 8:40 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Many coastal wetlands worldwide, including some on the U.S. Atlantic Coast, are at risk of disappearing by the end of this century, scientists say.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists say coastal wetlands may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projected for the 21st century, a U.S. Interior Department release reported.

Even in a slow sea-level rise projection, wetlands with low sediment availability and low tidal ranges are vulnerable and may drown, researchers say.

Wetlands with higher sediment availability would be more likely to survive, they say.

Several coastal marshes along the East Coast of the United States, including the Plum Island Estuary, the largest estuary in New England, and coastal wetlands in North Carolina's Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, the second-largest estuary, have limited sediment supplies and are likely to disappear this century, the researchers say.

Coastal wetlands absorb energy from coastal storms, preserving shorelines and protecting human populations and infrastructure.

They support commercial seafood harvests, absorb pollutants and serve as critical habitat for migratory bird populations.

"Accurate information about the adaptability of coastal wetlands to accelerations in sea-level rise, such as that reported in this study, helps narrow the uncertainties associated with their disappearance," said survey scientist Glenn Guntenspergen.

"This research is essential for allowing decision makers to best manage local trade-offs between economic and conservation concerns."

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