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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Understanding Sediment Availability to Reduce Tidal Marsh Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise in the Northeast

Project Leader:
Project Fellows:
Project Investigators:
Brian Yellen, UMass Amherst
Timothy Cook, UMass Amherst
In Progress


Tidal marshes along the Atlantic coastline provide critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, help protect coastal ecosystems by filtering excess nutrients and pollutants, and serve as a buffer against coastal erosion and flooding. However, these important habitats and the species that rely on them are threatened by rising sea levels. Resource managers from the National Park Service Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region, and the state of Massachusetts have expressed a need for a scientific analysis of the vulnerability of these salt marshes to sea level rise.   The supply of sediment to marshes is a critical factor controlling marsh survival and adaptability to rising sea levels. Determining where and under what conditions marsh restoration is justified and likely to be successful requires an understanding of the availability of sediment, yet this information is lacking for most marshes. To address this need, researchers will conduct a comprehensive assessment of salt marsh vulnerability, focusing on the movement of sediment into salt marshes, a process that allows salt marshes to rise and accommodate higher seas.    The goals of the project include: (1) compiling existing data on sediment availability and variability for a highly diverse stretch of the Northeast coast into a publicly accessible resource; (2) developing a method to integrate data on sediment availability into assessments of marsh health; (3) developing a framework for predicting marsh resiliency based on remotely sensed observations and readily available oceanographic and geologic datasets. The outcomes of this work will help coastal managers identify marshes most vulnerable to climate change and evaluate the potential success of restoration efforts.