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

Karen Thorne, Glen MacDonald, Glenn Guntenspergen, Richard Ambrose, Kevin Buffington, Bruce Dugger, Chase Freeman, Christopher Janousek, Lauren Brown, Jordan Rosencranz, James Holmquist, John Smol, Kathryn Hargan, John Takekawa

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190 Scopus citations


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 habitatswere lost, with 83%of current tidalwetlands 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 higherrange 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereaao3270
JournalScience Advances
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 21 2018

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