Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 477-491

First online:

Consequences of Climate Change on the Ecogeomorphology of Coastal Wetlands

  • John W. DayAffiliated withDeparment of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University Email author 
  • , Robert R. ChristianAffiliated withBiology Department, East Carolina University
  • , Donald M. BoeschAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Science, University of Maryland
  • , Alejandro Yáñez-ArancibiaAffiliated withInstitute of Ecology A.C.
  • , James MorrisAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina
  • , Robert R. TwilleyAffiliated withDeparment of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of the Coast and Environment, Louisiana State University
  • , Larissa NaylorAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Exeter
  • , Linda SchaffnerAffiliated withVirginia Institute of Marine Sciences
  • , Court StevensonAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Science, University of Maryland

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Climate impacts on coastal and estuarine systems take many forms and are dependent on the local conditions, including those set by humans. We use a biocomplexity framework to provide a perspective of the consequences of climate change for coastal wetland ecogeomorphology. We concentrate on three dimensions of climate change affects on ecogeomorphology: sea level rise, changes in storm frequency and intensity, and changes in freshwater, sediment, and nutrient inputs. While sea level rise, storms, sedimentation, and changing freshwater input can directly impact coastal and estuarine wetlands, biological processes can modify these physical impacts. Geomorphological changes to coastal and estuarine ecosystems can induce complex outcomes for the biota that are not themselves intuitively obvious because they are mediated by networks of biological interactions. Human impacts on wetlands occur at all scales. At the global scale, humans are altering climate at rapid rates compared to the historical and recent geological record. Climate change can disrupt ecological systems if it occurs at characteristic time scales shorter than ecological system response and causes alterations in ecological function that foster changes in structure or alter functional interactions. Many coastal wetlands can adjust to predicted climate change, but human impacts, in combination with climate change, will significantly affect coastal wetland ecosystems. Management for climate change must strike a balance between that which allows pulsing of materials and energy to the ecosystems and promotes ecosystem goods and services, while protecting human structures and activities. Science-based management depends on a multi-scale understanding of these biocomplex wetland systems. Causation is often associated with multiple factors, considerable variability, feedbacks, and interferences. The impacts of climate change can be detected through monitoring and assessment of historical or geological records. Attribution can be inferred through these in conjunction with experimentation and modeling. A significant challenge to allow wise management of coastal wetlands is to develop observing systems that act at appropriate scales to detect global climate change and its effects in the context of the various local and smaller scale effects.


Climate change Ecogeomorphology Coastal wetlands