Climate Change and Sentinel Monitoring Research Projects

Sentinels of Climate Change: Coastal Indicators of Wildlife and Ecosystem Change in Long Island Sound

Investigators: Chris Field, University of Connecticut and Chris Elphick, University of Connecticut

Project Final Report: September 2014

The researchers investigated potential indicators of climate change effects on key wildlife and ecosystem resources in coastal Long Island Sound (LIS). Our focus was on biological indicators with high potential to show climate responses, available historical data, ease of cost-effective future data collection, and the ability to inform real-world management decisions. For wildlife measures with long enough time series, we investigated whether variation was explained by a set of core parameters: measures of temperature, precipitation, and sea level. We found that beach-nesting and colonial waterbirds, which represent some of the longest time series for wildlife in LIS, are not strongly influenced by the core parameters. In contrast, several saltmarsh bird and plant measures are strong indicators of sea level and tidal flooding. Additionally, we conducted pilot investigations and collected baseline data for other potential indicators in an attempt to address topics that lacked a historical record, in particular rates of ecosystem change in areas thought to be experiencing marine transgression. Overall, our results suggest that (1) several components of saltmarsh ecosystems are already being affected by increased coastal flooding and (2) coastal forest ecosystems are potentially resilient to change in the face of increased coastal flooding. This temporal mismatch in responses to coastal flooding will likely create challenges for management aimed at saltmarsh conservation in LIS. Additional research and monitoring are needed to understand the rates of marine transgression and the factors influencing them. See Summary of Final Report | Final Report.

Sentinels of Change−Are Salt Marshes in LIS Keeping Pace with Sea Level Rise?

Investigator: Robinson Fulweiler, Boston University Laboratory of Coastal Ecology and Biogeochemistry

Project Final Report: January 2016

Coastal systems, like those found throughout Long Island Sound (LIS) are under clear and constant pressures of anthropogenic change. Of particular concern are salt marshes which offer a range of important ecosystem services from providing critical nursery habitat for fish and birds to nutrient filtration and storm surge mitigation. Over the past four centuries, Northeastern US salt marshes have mostly kept pace with rates of relative sea-level rise (RSLR). However, with increasing rates of RSLR, the futures of salt marshes remains uncertain. In fact, recent estimates and global models predict that greater than 65% of salt marshes from Maine to New Jersey will be lost to sea-level rise in the coming decades Determining how salt mashes respond to increased sea level rise is challenging because their ability to accrete vertically depends on a range of environmental factors. Importantly, over the last three decades, sea level rise has significantly increased in this region. Our recent measurements in nearby Narragansett Bay found that RSLR increased from a rate of 0.26±0.2 cm yr¨¹ in the early 1980s to 0.41±0.07cm yr¨¹ in the 1990s to 2000s. More alarming, the last decade has seen dramatic increases in RSLR, rising to 0.91±0.2 cm yr¨¹ (2000-2011)

Salt marshes worldwide accrete through two primary means: sediment deposition and organic matter build-up. Northeastern US slat marshes are characterized as being sediment starved and thus they depend primarily on organic matter accretion. IN turn, this accretion is driven by the balance between salt march primary production and decomposition. These biological processes are impacted by a variety of anthropogenic changes across local (e.g. nutrient loading) and regional/global (e.g., warming air and water temperatures) scales. Throughout this region, both sea-level rise and temperature have been increasing. The impact these two forcings will have on salt marshes is unclear. The purpose of the research proposed here is to d determine if accretion rates in LIS slat marshes are keeping pace with sea-level rise. Additionally, we will put these new measurements into a larger historical and environmental context by synthesizing existing data. The specific objectives of this proposal are to:

  1. Quantify salt marsh accretion rates at a select set of sites in Long Island Sound using two dating methods.
  2. At select sites measure rates of salt marsh decomposition.
  3. Gather and synthesize data throughout LIS for environmental factors indicative of climate change including air and water temperatures, sea-level rise, wind, and precipitation; additionally, we will gather all previously measured salt marsh accretion rates in LIS.

See Executive Summary of the final report and the  Final Report.

Detecting Climate Change Impacts in Long Island Sound

Investigators: Jennifer E.D. O’Donnell, Coastal Ocean Analytics, James O’Donnell, Coastal Ocean Analytics, and Todd Fake, Coastal Ocean Analytics

A broad array of Sentinel characteristics of the Long Island Sound ecosystem have been identified by the Sentinel Monitoring Work Group. These have been linked to physical and chemical driver variables that are characteristic of the environment. We propose to quantify local changes in the environment through an analysis of changes in the driver variables and assess whether they are a consequence of global-scale climate change. This will assist in future analysis of ecosystem responses and guide management priorities on mitigation and adaptation strategies. Our approach is to establish long time-series of measurements of driver variables and aggregate them into a regional climatology. We will use objective and repeatable statistical procedures to merge data from different sources. We will make the raw data, the climatologies, and the processing software available through the project website. We will then analyze the merged series to detect long term trends and cycles, and compare the results with the available continent and global-scale analyses. We will also make preliminary assessments to changes in characteristics of lobster and marsh habitats and coastal erosion rates. The results will be disseminated to the bi-state Sentinel Monitoring Work Group through a meeting/webinar and a report, and to the broader community through the project website and a scientific journal article.

The report is available as a pdf document. A summary of the report and data from the report is available on the Coastal Ocean Analytics website.

Please complete your newsletter signup.