Facilitating Accurate and Effective Application of Coastal Marsh Models

Project Information

Sarah Spiegler, NC Sea Grant, NC State University

Proposed Project Completion: Completed

Implements Science Plan Theme: Adaptation

Project Cooperators: Len Balthis (NOAA NCCOS), Christine Buckel (NOAA NCCOS), Renee Collini (Mississippi State U.), Trevor Meckley (NOAA NCCOS)


Coastal marshes protect and support our coastal communities and economies by providing protection from storm surge, buffering pollutants, and providing recreational opportunities. Rising water levels and salt water inundation threatens marshes and jeopardizes the benefits they provide. To preserve these benefits, coastal resource managers need short- and long- term understanding of how marshes could change in response to rising sea levels. Researchers will work with marsh model developers and coastal natural resource managers to understand which models are best suited for different types of management decisions. The available choices of marsh models can be overwhelming to coastal land managers. This work will develop clear guidance on which models are best suited for specific types of management decisions.

There are a number of marsh model options and while options can be beneficial, the similarities and differences in model capabilities and the resulting implications for marsh management are not well understood. Furthermore, the predictions of these models have not been robustly compared to historical data to assess their skill at describing changes in the marshes as sea levels rise. Researchers will convene the primary marsh modelers in the U.S. to (1) develop an agreed- upon method for comparing the model outputs to each other and to historical data and (2) generate a common dataset of model inputs so that comparisons among model outputs will highlight differences in model skill and not the data sources. Researchers will also work with natural resource managers on (3) summarizing the different capabilities of each model and how this information can be used when selecting a model for management actions.

This project supports DOI Secretarial Priority 1a by improving the usability and interpretation of models used to explore how coastal marsh habitat will respond to changing sea level. This project will address USGS mission to provide science to better inform land and habitat management.

Expected products include workshop summary report and technical manuscripts that detail the established methods for marsh models intercomparison, evaluation, and appropriate utility of each model for relevant management actions.