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September 27, 2023

Future Marsh Evolution Due To Tidal Changes Induced by Human Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

Celina Balderas Guzmán, Kevin J. Buffington, Karen M. Thorne, Glenn R. Guntenspergen, Michelle A. Hummel, Mark T. Stacey (2023). Future Marsh Evolution Due To Tidal Changes Induced by Human Adaptation to Sea Level Rise. Earth’s Future. 11(9):e2023EF003518.

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With sea level rise threatening coastal development, decision-makers are beginning to act by modifying shorelines. Previous research has shown that hardening or softening shorelines may change the tidal range under future sea level rise. Tidal range can also be changed by natural factors. Coastal marshes, which humans increasingly depend on for shoreline protection, are ecologically sensitive to tidal range. Therefore, it is critical to examine how changes in tidal range could influence marsh processes. A marsh accretion model was used to investigate the ecological response of a San Francisco Bay, California, USA marsh to multiple tidal range scenarios and sea level rise from 2010 to 2100. The scenarios include a baseline scenario with no shoreline modifications in the estuary, a shoreline hardening scenario that amplifies the tidal range, and 14 tidal range scenarios as a sensitivity analysis that span tidal amplification and reduction of the baseline scenario. The modeling results expose key tradeoffs to consider when planning for sea level rise. Compared to the baseline, the hardening scenario shows minor differences. However, further tidal amplification prolongs marsh survival but decreases Sarcocornia pacifica cover, an important species for certain threatened wildlife and an effective attenuator of wave energy. Conversely, tidal reduction precipitates marsh drowning but shows gains in Sarcocornia pacifica cover. These mixed impacts of tidal amplification and reduction shown by the model indicate potential tradeoffs in relation to marsh survival, habitat characteristics, and shoreline protection. This study suggests the need for a cross-sectoral, regional approach to sea level rise adaptation.