Coastal marshes might be in danger, more than previously believed, according to new findings.
Fish, birds, and other animals find shelter in salt marshes, but a recent study shows how these vital ecosystems are drowning due to sea levels rising at an accelerated rate.
Here is what you need to know.
The Future of Coastal Marshes
A team of researchers led by Orencio Duran Vinent, an assistant professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University, has made quite the discovery.
They found that rising water levels are enough to increase at a rate a bit higher than the slower-growing regions within the marsh to trigger widespread drowning.
Researchers used data gathered by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences and made analytical and computational models. They aimed to find out how increasing sea levels and sediment transportation affected the resilience of marshes. The results are genuinely shocking.
“Our research suggests that ponding is not just an isolated event but an early sign of extensive future marsh loss, even at current rates of sea level rise,” explained Duran Vinent.
What the team found is a new type of marsh destabilization, dubbed “runaway fragmentation.”
That means the ecosystems could drown now at a lower rate of sea-level increase than previously thought.
Moreover, the new model predicts that the actual rates at which sea levels are increasing are shockingly closer to a tipping point for extensive marsh drowning.
This new form of marsh destabilization and the eventful drowning of salt marshes happen right when the increasing sea level gradually drowns interior parts within the marsh. And the ponding process kicks in.
Every pond will eventually evolve, growing larger and finally stabilizing. The results would very much look like Swiss cheese.
As per the team’s findings, the sediment supply is less important to help marshes. What could really make a difference is an organic material that needs to survive the sea-level rise.
Researchers explain that an accurate understanding of natural processes is vital to innovating new coastal preservation methods.