Virginia Eastern Shore Future Habitat App Updated

The Future Habitat app, which shows how the size and distribution of tidal marshes and other coastal habitats may change in response to future projected sea-level rise scenarios on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, has been updated. The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve in collaboration with Warren Pinnacle Consulting, Inc. incorporated sea level-rise curves from the most recent National Climate Assessment (2017) as well as new LiDAR and impervious surface data in the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM), upon which the Future Habitat app is based. Updating this model provides more accurate projections of the potential effects of accelerated sea-level rise on coastal ecosystems.

The recently updated Future Habitat app has the same graphical interface and functionalities that users are familiar with and now provides the choice of four sea-level rise scenarios –  intermediate-low, intermediate, high, and extreme – as well as five scenario years (current, 2030, 2050, 2075, and 2100).

Habitat changes shown in the updated Future Habitat app.

Tidal marshes are dynamic ecosystems that provide significant ecological and economic value. Given that tidal marshes are located at the interface between land and water, they can be among the most susceptible ecosystems to climate change, especially accelerated sea-level rise. Numerous factors can affect marsh fate including the elevation of marshes relative to the tides, marshes’ frequency of inundation, the salinity of flooding waters, the biomass of marsh platforms, land subsidence, marsh substrate, and the settling of suspended sediment into the marshes. Because of these factors, a simple calculation of current marsh elevations as compared to future projections of sea level does not provide an adequate estimation of wetland vulnerability. SLAMM is widely recognized as an effective model to study and predict wetland response to long-term sea-level rise and has been applied in every coastal US state.

By Cristina Carollo, Senior Coastal Scientist at The Nature Conservancy