Climatic Change

, Volume 107, Issue 1–2, pp 35–57 | Cite as

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

  • Laura Geselbracht
  • Kathleen Freeman
  • Eugene Kelly
  • Doria R. Gordon
  • Francis E. Putz
Open Access


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.


Salt Marsh Digital Elevation Model Coastal Forest National Wetland Inventory Black Rail 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



digital elevation model


Endangered Species Act


Florida Department of Environmental Protection


Florida Land Use, Cover and Forms Classification System


Florida Natural Areas Inventory


Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


light detection and ranging


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


National Wetlands Inventory


Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model


sea level rise


Southwest Florida Water Management District


US Environmental Protection Agency


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Geselbracht
    • 1
  • Kathleen Freeman
    • 1
  • Eugene Kelly
    • 1
  • Doria R. Gordon
    • 1
  • Francis E. Putz
    • 2
  1. 1.The Nature Conservancy, Florida ChapterAltamonte SpringsUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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