Federal Grant to Fund Local Salt-Marsh Climate Adaptations

The Ocean State's vital collection of salt marshes provide important environmental and economic benefits. (NBNERR)

The Ocean State's vital collection of salt marshes provide important environmental and economic benefits. (NBNERR)

By ecoRI News staff

PRUDENCE ISLAND, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) was recently awarded a $500,000 federal research grant to lead a nationwide study examining strategies to enhance salt-marsh resilience against the impacts of climate change.

This two-year study, being led by the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and managed by DEM, will evaluate thin-layer sediment placement as an adaptation strategy to improve marsh resilience against rising sea levels. As part of the national effort, this study will involve eight other National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) sites. The NERR system is a state-federal partnership program established between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and coastal states to preserve and protect coastal lands for long-term research and education.

While salt marshes are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet and provide important environmental and economic benefits, they are being threatened by sea-level rise. Since they exist along a very narrow elevation zone, when flooded with water for too long, or too often, they will eventually drown. In many places, increasing rates of sea-level rise are outpacing the marshes’ natural ability to adapt, negatively affecting their resiliency and the wildlife that depend on them.

With this grant, researchers at the Narragansett Bay NERR will evaluate how marshes respond to the addition of various amounts of sediment at different elevations and compare these results to similar work being done by project partners across the country.

“Our marshlands are beautiful, important places that need to be protected,” DEM director Janet Coit said. “Given their location at the intersection of the land and sea, marshes are invaluable to our environment and economy: nurturing wildlife, contributing to cleaner waters, and helping to protect our infrastructure. They are also vulnerable to a changing climate and rising waters.”

The project is being supported by the NERRS Science Collaborative — a NOAA-funded program administered by the University of Michigan Water Center. The primary goal of the collaborative is to support research that informs coastal management and improves long-term stewardship of the nation’s estuaries.