As many previous climate change studies have shown, a warming world will inevitably mean rising sea levels. How large a rise will result from warming is largely dependent upon whether efforts to reduce warming are employed or work. A failure could result in massive glacial melting, such as all of Antarctica, which would raise sea levels 200 feet.
However, when or if such massive sea level rises are to occur is still in question. But many studies attempt to determine likely scenarios, such as one regarding what will happen to wetlands by the year 2100. A recent study by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) used computer models in order to determine the impact sea level rises would have on worldwide wetlands. The entire study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Glenn Guntenspergen, from the USGS and the head author of the study, stated: “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.”
Coastal wetlands play major roles in ecosystems worldwide. The roles they play in the environment include the absorption of emissions and pollutants, protection from major storms such as hurricanes and a temporary home for migrating birds.
The computer modeling done by the USGS determined results with both fast and slow sea level rises. Sea levels rising quickly will result in massive losses of wetlands globally, with most projected to be eliminated in this scenario by 2100.
Slow rising sea levels would allow more wetlands to adapt to the inundation of additional water. Wetlands expected to have the greatest likelihood of surviving would be those with high levels of sediment and high tidal ranges. Both aspects would allow a wetland to counteract the sea level rising by increasing its overall elevation.
Two of the largest coastal wetlands in the United States would likely not survive rising seas due to low sediment. The two wetlands are the Plum Island Estuary in New England and the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.