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Up to 70 percent of Northeast coast has natural capacity to adapt to sea-level rise

A new model developed by the US Geological Survey captures the potential for the Northeast coastline to change in response to sea-level rise, rather than simply be submerged.

In a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, researchers from US Geological Survey report that 70 percent of the Northeast Atlantic Coast is made up of ecosystems that have the capacity to change over the next several decades in response to rising seas.

For example, barrier islands may migrate inland, build dunes, change shape, or be split by new inlets as tides, winds, waves and currents sculpt their sands. Marshes trap sediment and break down decaying plants into new soil, which may elevate them sufficiently in some areas to keep pace with sea-level increases.

The USGS model is the first to factor in natural forces and make detailed predictions from the 2020s through the 2080s over a large coastal area, some 38,000 square kilometers (about 9.4 million acres). It is an advance over most regional models, which project drowning as the only outcome as the oceans rise. These are often referred to as “bathtub models” and assume the coast is progressively submerged as sea levels rise.

The initial development of the model was guided by a North Atlantic LCC-facilitated sea-level rise structured decision making process, and the results are being used to assess the integrity of coastal ecosystems and species as part of the Designing Sustainable Landscapes project. See the North Atlantic LCC project page to learn more.

Read the news release from USGS.

Read the paper in Nature Climate Change.


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