|ASWM keeps its finger on the pulse of new developments in wetland science. Hot topics in wetland science today include wetland assessment methods, wetland mapping, wildlife stream crossings, vernal pools, sudden wetland dieback, hypoxia, invasive species, the 2010 Gulf oil spill and wetland restoration, climate change and its impacts on wetlands, such as sea level rise and carbon sequestration as a possible solution for reducing greenhouse gases. || || |
In different parts of the U.S., vernal pools, which are seasonal wetlands, appear differently in the environment. They are characteristically seasonal depressional wetlands that fill up with water in the spring after snowmelt and spring rains. Wood frogs, spotted salamanders and blue spotted salamanders, fairy shrimp are a few of the species known to occur in vernal pools. These frogs can be heard in the springtime (known locally as "peepers" in some areas) when they are calling to their mates in vernal pools.
After they spawn, the frogs and salamanders leave the vernal pools and go to upland areas, sometimes miles away from the pool. Vernal pools present a unique opportunity for teaching kids and the public about the importance of wetlands, as they hold flood waters, improve water quality in the watershed and provide unique habitat for those species that require the protection of vernal pools to breed. Vernal pools dry out during the summer so it is easiest to find them during spring.
Many of our current efforts to address climate change only revolve around how to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gases through renewable energy, cleaner fuels and more efficient technologies. Most scientists, however, predict that even if we significantly reduce our carbon footprint immediately, the impacts of our past actions will continue to increase the occurrence and severity of extreme climatic events such as droughts, hurricanes and floods. Wetlands have the ability to not only help humans mitigate the impacts of climate change (through carbon sequestration), but also to adapt to extreme weather events associated with climate change.
Wetland protection, restoration, enhancement and creation can be incorporated into land use planning and management decisions as communities look for ways to manage stormwater, floodwater conveyance, drought and storm surges. “Natural” or “green” infrastructure designs have been incorporating wetlands and specific wetland functions to replace or add to the capacity of often outdated and crumbling mechanical infrastructure systems such as water treatment plants, dams and/or levees. Typically, this requires a transdisciplinary approach which includes hydrologists, engineers, wetland scientists, land use planners, policy makers, local citizens and other stakeholders from local, state, tribal and federal agencies.
Several local, state and federal government agencies have already begun to develop climate change adaptation plans with some overlapping goals in both regulatory and resource management areas. Adaptation strategies for coastal and freshwater wetlands are explored in ASWM's Recommendations for a National Wetlands and Climate Change Initiative paper (2009). ASWM's State Wetland Climate Change Adaptation Summaries (updated in 2013) is posted here.
All types of wetlands are carbon sequestering systems (aka “carbon sinks”), from temperate freshwater wetlands to boreal peatlands. That means that wetlands have the ability to store excess carbon (via photosynthesis) from the atmosphere – one of the primary components of greenhouse gases and a driver of climate change. This means that wetlands play an important role in mitigating climate change. Drainage and degradation of wetlands can release significant amounts of this stored carbon back into the atmosphere and reduce the ability of wetlands to sequester additional carbon. Better management practices can help protect these stores of carbon and the ability of wetlands to sequester it. “Blue carbon” is the type of carbon that is stored in coastal wetland vegetation such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marsh grasses, which are far more effective at sequestering carbon than terrestrial forests. However, terrestrial wetland soils also function as carbon sinks for carbon produced by upland agriculture, forestry and other land uses. As carbon, in the form of organic material (such as eroded soil, leaves, and tree debris), is washed into low lying wetland areas, it is deposited into wetlands where it becomes part of the wetland sediment through decomposition.
Wetlands & Sea Level Rise
Sea level rise is the result of two primary biophysical factors reacting to climate change. First, as the oceans absorb excess CO2 from the atmosphere, it causes ocean temperatures to rise which expands the volume of water in the ocean. Second, as global temperatures on average increase, arctic glaciers and ice caps melt, adding additional volume to ocean water levels. As a result of this, and in combination with other drivers of change (e.g., development and agricultural land use pressures as well as increased hurricane activity), coastal wetlands have been lost at an alarming rate. In fact, between the years 2004 to 2009, the rate of loss was 25% greater than from the previous reporting period of 1998-2004. Annually that adds up to 80,160 acres of coastal wetlands being lost each year. Many scientists predict that the rapid rate of sea level rise will outpace the evolutionary adaptive capacity of coastal wetland flora and fauna. Heavy development pressure in most coastal areas restricts the ability of wetlands to naturally migrate inward. And the further degradation of the remaining coastal wetlands will certainly reduce species diversity as well as increase the risks to human health and property from flooding, storm surges and groundwater contamination. Below you will find a list of links for topics relating to wetlands and sea level rise, as well as links to related publications, news stories, blogs, and sea level rise modeling tools.
ASWM keeps its finger on the pulse of new developments in wetland science. Hot topics in wetland science today include wetland assessment methods, wetland mapping, wildlife stream crossings, vernal pools, sudden wetland dieback, hypoxia, invasive species, the 2010 Gulf oil spill and wetland restoration, climate change and its impacts on wetlands, such as sea level rise and carbon sequestration as a possible solution for reducing greenhouse gases.
In April 2010, the B.P. owned Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf through several complex system failures. ASWM has been tracking news of the spill's impact on coastal wetlands in the Gulf. If you're looking for Gulf oil spill news stories, click here. Below find information on clean-up and restoration activities in the wake of the Gulf oil spill as well as links to federal agencies and organizations that are handling the restoration of coastal wetlands in the Gulf.
The oil is not gone. This story is not over. We smelled it in the air. We felt it in the water. People along the Gulf Coast are getting sick and sicker. Marshes are burned. Oysters are scarce and shrimp are tainted. Jobs are gone and stress is high. What is now hidden will surface over time.– Terry Tempest Williams
Latest Gulf Oil Spill News here (2012)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has measured wetland losses for half a century and subsequently produced periodic Status and Trends studies on the nation's wetlands. These reports are based on a statistical sampling of the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) maps that focus on wetland acreage. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is underway with a national wetlands condition assessment. States and tribes also conduct wetland assessments--and have developed a number of tools for assessment, such as Rapid Assessment Methods (RAM), criteria for determining functions, values, ecosystem services; and ecological integrity assessments, using biological indicators. Local governments and nonprofit organizations may employ similar and other wetland assessment methods specific to their locality.
There is a growing area of science and technology that wetland managers and scientists are using to better understand the impact of climate change. In order to be better prepared for the uncertain impacts of climate change, a variety of models and tools have been developed to better understand and communicate the risks to stakeholders and communities around the world. These models and tools improve our ability to predict potential climate change impacts based on different assumptions about future weather patterns, land use, sea level rise, demographics and other variables. By employing these different variables into a model, resource managers are better able to strategically prioritize goals and actions to protect habitat, water resources, wildlife and more in an uncertain future.
To access the State Wetland Climate Change Adaptation Summaries main page, click here.
Wetlands One-Stop: Providing Easy Online Access to Geospatial Data on Wetlands and Soils and Related Information
The Association of State Wetland Managers in collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute (CMI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region have created Wetlands One-Stop Mapping to provide easy online access to geospatial data on wetlands and soils produced by federal and state agencies. Because different agencies post data on their own sites, there is not a single place to go for this information. Wetlands One-Stop Mapping provides links to these and other websites. It provides online access to classification tools for adding hydrogeomorphic-type to wetland inventory data and the results of National Wetlands Inventory+ projects (maps and reports). The geospatial information is linked to aerial imagery (and topographic maps) through ESRI’s ArcGIS (including ArcGIS Explorer) for easy viewing of wetlands, their characteristics, and functions for areas where NWI+ data are available.
The website also provides links to other federal and state websites that contain information on wetlands and geospatial wetland data. Among the national datasets accessible via Wetlands One-Stop Mapping are the NWI’s wetlands mapper, USDA’s web soil survey, USGS’s national hydrography data and hydrologic units (HUCs). Links are also provided to NatureServe Explorer and the U.S. National Vegetation Classification Hierarchy Explorer along with guidance on how to extract descriptions of wetland plant communities from those sites for specific areas of interest.
The site also provides information about the activities of the Wetland Mapping Consortium including future and past recorded webinars, Coastal Mapping Resources, a summary of the status of state wetland mapping and links to federal and state wetland delineation manuals, numerous wetland publications, and federal agency wetland program websites.
Since ASWM published its article on Coastal Wetland Dieback in 2006, researchers have continued to study the phenomenon with varying results and conclusions. Wetland “dieback” encompasses a number of incidences, including “sudden wetland dieback,” “marsh browning,” and naturally-occurring wetland dieback. If you are aware of a study that has been published that is not yet listed below, please contact us with the information.