Smith, S.M.; Tyrrell, M.; Medeiros, K.; Bayley, H.; Fox, S.; Adams, M.; Mejia, C.; Dijkstra, A.; Janson, S., and Tanis, M., 2017. Hypsometry of Cape Cod salt marshes (Massachusetts, U.S.A.) and predictions of marsh vegetation responses to sea-level rise.

The structure and functioning of salt marsh ecosystems are being impacted by sea-level rise, and a major determinant of their vulnerability to this aspect of climate change is their ground surface elevation relative to tide heights (hypsometry). In this study, a comprehensive real-time kinematic (RTK) global positioning system (GPS) survey was conducted within four salt marshes at Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) to create digital elevation models, and in situ water-level loggers were used to collect tidal data within each system. From these data, marsh surface elevations were calculated relative to mean high tide elevations for 2013 and projected elevation change rates with 50 cm and 100 cm of sea-level rise. Vegetation responses to these scenarios were then modeled based on the relationship of high and low marsh zones to relative elevation. The results suggest that (1) CCNS marshes sit low within their tidal frames, unlike the majority of salt marshes in New England, (2) high marsh areas will be most affected with sea-level rise, with 90–100% losses under both 50 cm and 100 cm sea-level rise scenarios, and (3) total marsh losses of up to 30% could ensue with 100 cm of sea-level rise. Such changes, should they occur, would substantially impact the coastal environment on Cape Cod and profoundly impact the ecosystem services provided by these systems.

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