Save Coastal Wetlands to Help Fight Climate Change

Up to 30 per cent of coastal wetlands could be lost globally by the year 2100 with a dramatic effect on global warming and coastal flooding, if action is not taken to protect them, new research warns.

The global study, led by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, suggests that the future of global coastal wetlands, including tidal marshes and mangroves, could be secured if they were able to migrate further inland.

Geographers examined localised data from around the globe on coastal elevation, tides, sediment availability, coastal population and estimates of sea level rise to assess whether coastal wetlands are likely to have enough sediment to increase their elevation at the rate sea levels will rise, or whether there is enough space to establish themselves further inland.

The results show there could be global coastal wetland gains of up to 60 per cent if more than a third of the areas had space to move inland. The use of more localised data provides more accurate global results than previous estimates which warned of catastrophic losses of up to 90 per cent – but scientists say action must be taken now to save coastal wetlands from ever increasing sea levels.

The findings of the study have important implications for the future development of public policies, with the authors calling for an upscale in current efforts for coastal wetland restoration.

Coastal wetlands have a direct impact on global warming levels by helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are also an important form of coastal protection, reducing the energy of waves and the intensity of storm surges, thereby reducing coastal erosion and coastal flooding.

The research was led by Dr Mark Schuerch from the University of Lincoln’s School of Geography in collaboration with the universities of Cambridge and Southampton in the UK; University of Antwerp in Belgium; Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel and Humboldt-University in Germany; Monash University in Australia; Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the USA; the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre; and the Global Climate Forum.

Dr Schuerch said: “Rather than being an inevitable consequence of global rising sea levels, our findings indicate that large-scale coastal wetland loss might be avoidable if sufficient additional space can be created by increasing the number of innovative ‘nature-based adaptation’ solutions to coastal management. These enable coastal wetlands to migrate inland through displacement of coastal flood defences and the designation of nature reserve buffers in upland areas surrounding coastal wetlands. If these are strategically scaled up they could help coastal wetlands adapt to rising sea levels and protect rapidly increasing global coastal populations.”

Further research is now needed to improve understanding of the adaption mechanisms of coastal wetlands to see level rise, particularly their ability to migrate inland.

The full paper, Future responses of global coastal wetlands to sea level rise, has been published in the scientific journal Nature and is available to read online:

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Prof Edward Hanna Delivers Research Findings on Arctic Weather and Greenland Ice Sheet

Our School’s Professor of Climate Science and Meteorology, Edward Hanna, was invited to the Nansen Center in Bergen, Norway during 28th – 31st August  2018.

During his visit, Prof Hanna gave collaborative talks with research scientists and was also invited to deliver two guest lectures, titled ‘Arctic Amplification of Mid-Latitude Weather’ and ‘Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Balance and Climate’.

The Nansen Center is an independent, non-profit research foundation conducting basic and applied environmental and climate research.

L-R: Prof. Sebastian Mernild (Nansen Center Director), Prof. Edward Hanna (University of Lincoln) and Dr. Linling Chen (Nansen Center)

The talks were well received; the visit was highly productive and resulted in new links being made with several researchers as well as consolidating existing links on Arctic glaciology / Greenland Ice Sheet and climate change matters.

As part of his ongoing research, Prof Hanna also presented the results from his Greenland Ice Sheet / climate research at the International Glaciological Society’s annual British Branch Meeting in Exeter (4th September 2018).

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Prof Hanna Holds International Research Workshop on Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet Mass Balance

Prof Edward Hanna of the School of Geography, University of Lincoln,  lead-organised an international research workshop on Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance – links between observational data and computer model simulations – as part of the POLAR2018 conference in Davos, Switzerland, on 15 June.

This included some of the world-leading scientists working in this area. There were two keynote talks: Prof Tony Payne (University of Bristol) spoke on “Challenges in making useful projections of the future sea-level contributions of ice sheets”, while Prof Andy Shepherd (University of Leeds) gave a very timely rundown of “Satellite observations of ice sheet mass balance”. The latter talk was based on a major new research paper on Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance, 1992-2017, that Prof Shepherd had lead-published in the journal NATURE the previous day [as a participant in the second Ice sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE2), Prof Hanna is one of about 80 co-authors on this paper].

Other talks included the effects on ice sheets of limiting global warming to 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels by 2100 (an unlikely outcome but one that is highly relevant to study for an upcoming interim report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). For further details, please visit the workshop website.

The photo shows (from left to right) Prof. Michiel van den Broeke (Utrecht University), Prof Tony Payne, Dr Pippa Whitehouse (Durham University), Dr Erik Ivins (CalTech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Prof Frank Pattyn (Universite libre de Bruxelles), who together led a panel discussion following the talks. The projected image is of a Greenland iceberg that Edward photographed while on fieldwork in Greenland in 2012. The meetings were held in the Davos Congress Centre that regularly hosts meetings of the World Economic Forum.

Edward and his co-organisers (renowned glaciologists Francisco Navarro, Frank Pattyn and Catherine Ritz) are grateful to the workshop sponsors: the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the International Arctic Science Committee, and the Climate and Cryosphere project of the World Climate Research Programme, especially for facilitating several Early Career Scientists to attend the workshop. Working together with the presenters, it is planned to write a major review/synthesis paper for a leading science journal, summarising the outcomes of the workshop, within the next few months.