Sea level rise and the associated flooding of coastal regions are predicted to lead to severe impacts in many European countries. It is recognised that coastal habitats will play a vital role in mitigating the effects of sea level rise, through increasing sediment accretion rates and thus surface elevation. In Europe, saltmarshes are the primary vegetated coastal habitat and are widely distributed along the European coastline. Both geological evidence from the Holocene, when sea levels rose quickly and significantly and models of contemporary sea level rise suggest that saltmarshes are able to keep pace with sea level rise when sediment supply is sufficient, thus protecting inland habitats from inundation. Saltmarshes have also been shown to be very effective at attenuating wave energy during storm surges. Vertical accretion rates in vegetated coastal habitats are the result of complex interactions between geomorphological (e.g. geological subsidence, sedimentation rates) and biological processes (e.g. root growth and organic matter accumulation and thus require a multidisciplinary research approach. Salt marsh growth and physiology can be an important driver of change in vertical accretion but the lack of data on biological processes, especially belowground, has been identified as a confounding factor for salt marsh models. This project is academically innovative, as it will simultaneously determine the role of biological processes (both above and below ground) and geomorphological processes in the overall changes to vertical accretion under different global change scenarios and incorporate those into existing salt marsh evolution and surface elevation models that predict the vulnerability of coastal areas to sea level rise.
Fields of science
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