Wetlands more resilient to sea level rise than previously thought, study finds

An international study involving the head of Monash’s Coastal Research Group has found that wetlands may be more resilient to sea level rises than previously thought.

The study, published in Nature, suggests that as a result wetlands may be preserved with relatively simple management approaches.

There is growing concern about the fate of coastal ecosystems under the projections of sea level rise.

“A number of global projections have suggested dramatic losses of coastal wetland habitat associated with rising sea levels (up to 90%),” said study co-author, Dr Ruth Reef, from the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment.

“However, the integrated global model we have developed, that includes for the first-time realistic biophysical feedback mechanisms, human population density, and opportunity for wetland migration, shows that such large scale losses are avoidable,” she said.

Using model simulations the study suggests that nature-based adaptation solutions to sea level rise will safeguard the persistence of wetlands, protect rapidly increasing coastal populations, and result in a large increase in the global extent of coastal wetlands and preserve the ecosystem services they provide.

“The ability of wetlands to accrete sediments is protecting them from some of the large-scale losses previously predicted,” Dr Reef said.

“Our study clearly shows that the resilience of global wetlands is strongly influenced by coastal anthropogenic infrastructure,” she said.

The researchers’ model is based on the construction of coastal elevation profiles for 12,148 wetland coastline segments and globally deriving input variables such as sediment availability and tidal range in combination with coastal population density to calculate a ‘wetland adaptability score’, which is the ability of a coastal wetland segment to adapt to rising sea levels by sediment accretion.

They then performed simulations representing three sea level rise scenarios and different human adaptation scenarios to compute wetland gain/loss through accretion and migration.

“The research is significant because for the first time we have been able to show how wetlands might respond to sea level rise globally in a model that incorporates the realistic processes of the coastal zone and human expansion,” Dr Reef said.

“What this means is that wetlands can be more resilient to sea level rise than we initially thought and that with relatively simple management approaches we can preserve these very important habitats into the future,” she said.

The paper can be read here.

Further information, or to arrange an interview with Dr Reef contact:

Silvia Dropulich Marketing, Media and Communications Manager, Science

T: +61 3 9902 4513 M: +61 (0) 0435138743 E: silvia.dropulich@monash.edu