Rising Sea Level May Change Georgia’s Marshes

Beach
Rising sea level marsh threat studied. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

An important research project is wrapping up on Skidaway Island at the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Scientists there are now processing two years of data they have collected as they measure the effect of rising sea levels and the change in salinity in coastal waters. Researchers there say rising sea levels are documented and the work they are doing will not only measure that change, but also it’s impact on the makeup of coastal waters. This research should allow for an actual look at what those changes will look like thanks to computer modeling.  A two year research project, funded by the Department of Natural Resources, is wrapping up as a research team begins disseminating all the information they’ve gathered.

Their results are not just for the scientific community, they will be made available to everyone. For the next several weeks they will be crunching the numbers collected from hundreds of expeditions up and down the Georgia coast over the last two years. Dr. Clark Alexander, a professor of Coastal Geology with the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, has been leading the small team of researchers studying changes in marsh waters they say are caused by global warming. ” We know that sea levels are rising. As sea levels rise, salt water intrudes further up into our estuaries and further up into our fresh river valleys.” said Dr. Alexander. He goes on to say early indications suggest changes in the salinity of the marsh waters will mean a makeover of the marshes in the Peach State. ” Over time, a change the composition of our plant communities and the distribution of our different types of marshes.”

Dr. Alexander says his team’s work goes far beyond the 100 miles of Georgia’s coastline on the Atlantic. “We have 100 miles of coast line, but we have over 2,000 miles of shoreline when you get back behind the barrier beaches.” said Alexander. He adds that local data, gathered at Fort Pulaski over decades, shows what other indicators around the world reveal. The current rate of sea level rise is about one foot per century, but some estimate that number could triple in the same time period. If that occurs Dr. Alexander says the impact will be unmistakable. ” We’ll have less tidal fresh water marsh, less brackish marsh and more saltwater marsh over time.” Dr. Alexander said.

The data they collected will be compiled into a report to the Georgia DNR, Coastal Resources Division. The results will also be made public. The information and computer modeling will be available on the internet at the Coastal Hazards Portal of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. It will be several weeks before it’s ready, but click the link below right now to get a look at the portal.

http://gchp.skio.uga.edu/

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