, Volume 107, Issue 1-2, pp 35-57,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Retrospective and prospective model simulations of sea level rise impacts on Gulf of Mexico coastal marshes and forests in Waccasassa Bay, Florida


The State of Florida (USA) is especially threatened by sea level rise due to extensive low elevation coastal habitats (approximately 8,000 km2 < 1 m above sea level) where the majority of the human population resides. We used the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM) simulation to improve understanding of the magnitude and location of these changes for 58,000 ha of the Waccasassa Bay region of Florida’s central Gulf of Mexico coast. To assess how well SLAMM portrays changes in coastal wetland systems resulting from sea level rise, we conducted a hindcast in which we compared model results to 30 years of field plot data. Overall, the model showed the same pattern of coastal forest loss as observed. Prospective runs of SLAMM using 0.64 m, 1 m and 2 m sea level rise scenarios predict substantial changes over this century in the area covered by coastal wetland systems including net losses of coastal forests (69%, 83%, and 99%, respectively) and inland forests (33%, 50%, and 88%), but net gains of tidal flats (17%, 142%, and 3,837%). One implication of these findings at the site level is that undeveloped, unprotected lands inland from the coastal forest should be protected to accommodate upslope migration of this natural community in response to rising seas. At a broader scale, our results suggest that coastal wetland systems will be unevenly affected across the Gulf of Mexico as sea level rises. Species vulnerable to these anticipated changes will experience a net loss or even elimination.