Research ArticleECOLOGY

U.S. Pacific coastal wetland resilience and vulnerability to sea-level rise

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Science Advances  21 Feb 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 2, eaao3270
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3270

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We used a first-of-its-kind comprehensive scenario approach to evaluate both the vertical and horizontal response of tidal wetlands to projected changes in the rate of sea-level rise (SLR) across 14 estuaries along the Pacific coast of the continental United States. Throughout the U.S. Pacific region, we found that tidal wetlands are highly vulnerable to end-of-century submergence, with resulting extensive loss of habitat. Using higher-range SLR scenarios, all high and middle marsh habitats were lost, with 83% of current tidal wetlands transitioning to unvegetated habitats by 2110. The wetland area lost was greater in California and Oregon (100%) but still severe in Washington, with 68% submerged by the end of the century. The only wetland habitat remaining at the end of the century was low marsh under higher-range SLR rates. Tidal wetland loss was also likely under more conservative SLR scenarios, including loss of 95% of high marsh and 60% of middle marsh habitats by the end of the century. Horizontal migration of most wetlands was constrained by coastal development or steep topography, with just two wetland sites having sufficient upland space for migration and the possibility for nearly 1:1 replacement, making SLR threats particularly high in this region and generally undocumented. With low vertical accretion rates and little upland migration space, Pacific coast tidal wetlands are at imminent risk of submergence with projected rates of rapid SLR.

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