Sea level driven marsh expansion in a coupled model of marsh erosion and migration

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Abstract

Coastal wetlands are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, where ecosystem services such as flood protection depend nonlinearly on wetland size and are threatened by sea level rise and coastal development. Here we propose a simple model of marsh migration into adjacent uplands and couple it with existing models of seaward edge erosion and vertical soil accretion to explore how ecosystem connectivity influences marsh size and response to sea level rise. We find that marsh loss is nearly inevitable where topographic and anthropogenic barriers limit migration. Where unconstrained by barriers, however, rates of marsh migration are much more sensitive to accelerated sea level rise than rates of edge erosion. This behavior suggests a counterintuitive, natural tendency for marsh expansion with sea level rise and emphasizes the disparity between coastal response to climate change with and without human intervention.

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Kirwan, M. L., Walters, D. C., Reay, W. G., & Carr, J. A. (2016). Sea level driven marsh expansion in a coupled model of marsh erosion and migration. Geophysical Research Letters, 43(9), 4366–4373. https://doi.org/10.1002/2016GL068507

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