Modeling long-term salt marsh response to sea level rise in the sediment-deficient Plum Island Estuary, MA Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractAn accelerating global rate of sea level rise (SLR), coupled with direct human impacts to coastal watersheds and shorelines, threatens the continued survival of salt marshes. We developed a new landscapescale numerical model of salt marsh evolution and applied it to marshes in the Plum Island Estuary (Massachusetts, U.S.A.), a sedimentdeficient system bounded by steep uplands. To capture complexities of vertical accretion across the marsh platform, we employed a novel approach that incorporates spatially variable suspended sediment concentrations and biomass of multiple plant species as functions of elevation and distance from sediment sources. The model predicts a stable areal extent of Plum Island marshes for a variety of SLR scenarios through 2100, where limited marsh drowning is compensated by limited marsh migration into adjacent uplands. Nevertheless, the model predicts widespread conversion of high marsh vegetation to low marsh vegetation, and accretion deficits that indicate eventual marsh drowning. Although sedimentdeficient marshes bounded by steep uplands are considered extremely vulnerable to SLR, our results highlight that marshes with high elevation capital can maintain their areal extent for decades to centuries even under conditions in which they will inevitably drown.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 87

author list (cited authors)

  • Langston, A. K., Vinent, O., Herbert, E. R., & Kirwan, M. L.

citation count

  • 30

complete list of authors

  • Langston, Amy K||Vinent, Orencio||Herbert, Ellen R||Kirwan, Matthew L

publication date

  • September 2020