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Salt Marsh Evolution along the South Atlantic Bight

This project began September 2022 and is projected to be completed in August 2026.

We are advancing marsh modeling in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB) to provide high-resolution predictions of future marsh evolution and the wave attenuation of these habitats under varying sea level rise  scenarios to inform land acquisition or marsh restoration alternatives.

Why We Care

Tidal marshes are important natural habitats in coastal regions, especially in their capacity to buffer upland development and infrastructure from storm-driven flooding, provide important habitat to countless species, and offer recreational opportunities. As sea level rises, marshes will need sediment to keep pace with the water level or space to migrate inland to exist. The South Atlantic Bight (SAB) is a complex intertidal system that spans the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coastlines and exhibits varying estuarine types and shapes including convergent rivers and dissipative lagoons. It contains one of the most expansive salt marsh systems in the U.S with habitats that serve as nurseries, breeding grounds and foraging areas for a variety of species while helping to maintain water quality and protect upland areas.

What We Are Doing

The research team will develop a coupled hydrodynamic and ecological Hydro-MEM model for the SAB region to project marsh evolution under varying SLR scenarios. Hydro-MEM has been applied extensively across the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in several other locations around the country. The team will continue to incorporate additional physical processes and uncertainty in datasets into the model, using approaches that will enable more robust regional-scale assessments. To ensure the utility of the marsh model predictions are applied to coastal management, the team will engage an advisory group of key stakeholder representatives through the duration of the project to provide input and feedback on the scientific approaches and ecosystem service assessments. The research team will publish the model code to make Hydro-MEM more accessible to other experts.

Benefits of Our Work

Dynamic, process-based modeling will lay the foundation for understanding future marsh migration in the SAB, allowing for detailed feasibility assessments of local restoration alternatives or land acquisition decisions. Direct engagement with coastal decision makers and natural resources managers ensures that this project will support informed coastal management of our natural places and intelligent protection of our infrastructure and coastal communities.

The project is led by Dr. Davina Passeri of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center (SPCMSC) and includes co-investigator Dr. Dawn Kotowicz and Dr. Karim Alizad at SPCMSC, Dr. Nicholas Enwright at USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center (WARC), Dr. Neil Ganju at USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHCMSC), Dr. Matthew Bilskie at the University of Georgia (UGA), and Dr. James Morris at the University of South Carolina (USC).

The project is funded through the NCCOS Effects of Sea Level Rise Program.

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