Building Resilience Through Actionable Science on the Gulf of Mexico Coast

6.09.2017 (Fri)


Sea Level Rise and the Future of Wetlands

As sea level rise begins to encroach on coastal wetlands, resource managers are asking how these essential ecosystems will be affected. Many biologists believe that wetlands are some of the most valuable ecosystems in the world, and there are a high concentration of them on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast (including in Louisiana and Texas). The saline wetlands of the Gulf buffer storm surge, filter water, mitigate flooding, provide fish and wildlife habitat, and sequester carbon. Sea level rise is expected to force these ecosystems to move inland where the slope is not too steep to accommodate their movement, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about if, how, and where these wetlands will move.

The Gulf Coast LCCs recognized this key data gap and sought opportunities to fund science that would empower management decision-making. They collaborated to fund a study by the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center (WARC) that mapped opportunities and barriers for managing wetlands on the move. The researchers identified where future urban development and future tidal saline wetland migration are expected to overlap and where they are not under five different potential sea level rise scenarios. The maps produced by the project are helping managers visualize opportunities for proactively conserving wetlands while taking into account other land use needs. The results also overlayed wetland migration data with tracts of protected lands, giving managers insight into how they can facilitate wetland migration where they currently work.

A Gulf Coast Resiliency Road Trip

The South Central and Southeast Climate Science Centers recognized the importance of this wetland migration science to coastal managers and funded Sinead Borchert, an ecologist at USGS WARC, to develop customized decision-support products for specific communities. Sinead traveled to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to speak with hundreds of public, private, and non-profit resource managers. She received many requests for localized maps and other decision-support products, which she’ll be working to produce this summer.

This project is an example of how LCCs and CSCs work together to support and deliver impacts-focused research directly to managers.


USGS Ecologist Sinead Borchert discusses the potential impacts of sea level rise on wetlands in the Mobile Bay.