Coastal Wetland Responses to Sea Level Rise: The Losers and Winners Based on Hydro-Geomorphological Settings

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Remote Sensing


Many coastal wetlands are under pressure due to climate change and the associated sea level rise (SLR). Many previous studies suggest that upslope lateral migration is the key adaptive mechanism for saline wetlands, such as mangroves and saltmarshes. However, few studies have explored the long-term fate of other wetland types, such as brackish swamps and freshwater forests. Using the current wetland map of a micro-tidal estuary, the Manning River in New South Wales, Australia, this study built a machine learning model based on the hydro-geomorphological settings of four broad wetland types. The model was then used to predict the future wetland distribution under three sea level rise scenarios. The predictions were compared to compute the persistence, net, swap, and total changes in the wetlands to investigate the loss and gain potential of different wetland classes. Our results for the study area show extensive gains by mangroves under low (0.5 m), moderate (1.0 m), and high (1.5 m) sea level rise scenarios, whereas the other wetland classes could suffer substantial losses. Our findings suggest that the accommodation spaces might only be beneficial to mangroves, and their availability to saltmarshes might be limited by coastal squeeze at saline–freshwater ecotones. Furthermore, the accommodation spaces for freshwater wetlands were also restrained by coastal squeeze at the wetland-upland ecotones. As sea level rises, coastal wetlands other than mangroves could be lost due to barriers at the transitional ecotones. In our study, these are largely manifested by slope impacts on hydrology at a higher sea level. Our approach provides a framework to systematically assess the vulnerability of all coastal wetland types.

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