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Guide to Understanding and Using Model Results Depicting Potential Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands

Guide to Understanding and Using Model Results Depicting Potential Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands

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The scientific community is generally in agreement that
global sea level is rising and coastal wetlands are changing as
a result. Depending on local conditions, coastal wetlands may
disappear under the rising seas, persist in their current locations, or
migrate inland. In many places, these changes
have important ramifications for the ecosystem
and economy. Understanding where and how
coastal environments could change in response
to sea level rise, however, is a complex challenge
dependent upon many factors—from interdependent
ecological processes to data quality
and availability. As a result, resource managers
and other coastal decision-makers need appropriate
tools that can help them to anticipate and
prepare for the future effects of sea level rise on coastal wetlands.
Many models and methods are being used for this purpose.
Managers and other professionals with oversight responsibility for
coastal resources are often presented with model outputs in the form
of maps that illustrate projected sea level rise and potential loss or
migration of coastal wetlands. These maps or visualizations may
appear to provide a definitive picture, when in fact each represents a
collection of assumptions, compromises, and simplifications based on
the amount and quality of available data and information and on the
model’s purpose. As a result, it can be challenging to interpret model
results and to use the information appropriately.
This document is intended for people who need to use model
outputs for decision-making but who do not
build models themselves. It provides a basic
understanding of the parameters and uncertainties
involved in modeling the future impacts
of sea level rise on coastal wetlands. This is a
first step toward informed use and communication
of these models to support a range
of sea level rise adaptation activities—from
stakeholder education to habitat management to land conservation.
Equipped with this conceptual understanding, managers and
planners will be able to more effectively
• ask the right questions of technical specialists regarding model
use and results,
• evaluate the real-world implications of model results, and
• incorporate modeling results into management initiatives.
The scientific community is generally in agreement that
global sea level is rising and coastal wetlands are changing as
a result. Depending on local conditions, coastal wetlands may
disappear under the rising seas, persist in their current locations, or
migrate inland. In many places, these changes
have important ramifications for the ecosystem
and economy. Understanding where and how
coastal environments could change in response
to sea level rise, however, is a complex challenge
dependent upon many factors—from interdependent
ecological processes to data quality
and availability. As a result, resource managers
and other coastal decision-makers need appropriate
tools that can help them to anticipate and
prepare for the future effects of sea level rise on coastal wetlands.
Many models and methods are being used for this purpose.
Managers and other professionals with oversight responsibility for
coastal resources are often presented with model outputs in the form
of maps that illustrate projected sea level rise and potential loss or
migration of coastal wetlands. These maps or visualizations may
appear to provide a definitive picture, when in fact each represents a
collection of assumptions, compromises, and simplifications based on
the amount and quality of available data and information and on the
model’s purpose. As a result, it can be challenging to interpret model
results and to use the information appropriately.
This document is intended for people who need to use model
outputs for decision-making but who do not
build models themselves. It provides a basic
understanding of the parameters and uncertainties
involved in modeling the future impacts
of sea level rise on coastal wetlands. This is a
first step toward informed use and communication
of these models to support a range
of sea level rise adaptation activities—from
stakeholder education to habitat management to land conservation.
Equipped with this conceptual understanding, managers and
planners will be able to more effectively
• ask the right questions of technical specialists regarding model
use and results,
• evaluate the real-world implications of model results, and
• incorporate modeling results into management initiatives.

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10/15/2011

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A Maagr’s Guid  Udrsadig ad UsigMdl Rsuls Dpicig Pial Impacs Sa Ll Ris  Casal Wlads
 
Marss   M
A Manager’s Guide to Understanding and Using Model Results Depicting Potential Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Wetlands 
The Nature ConservancyGlobal Marine Team
URI Narragansett CampusSouth Ferry RoadNarragansett, RI 02882Phone: (401) 874-6871E-mail:marine@tnc.org www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/oceanscoasts 
NOAA National Ocean ServiceCoastal Services Center
2234 S. Hobson AvenueCharleston, SC 29405Phone: (843) 740-1200E-mail:csc.info@noaa.gov www.csc.noaa.gov 
Writing Team 
Roger Fuller
(Co-Lead) 
Zach Ferdaña, Adam WhelchelNancy Cofer-Shabica
(Co-Lead) 
Nate Herold, Keil Schmid, Brian Smith,Doug Marcy, Dave Eslinger
Writing and Design: 
 Acknowledgements 
Special thanks to Bethney Ward, Ben Gilmer, Nicole Maher, Mark Hoover,Sarah Newkirk, Brian Boutin, Laura Geselbracht, and Jorge Brenner forproviding valuable input and inspiration. This document was made possiblein part by the support of the Collins Northwest Conservation Fund.
October 2011
 
 1
MARSheS on the Move
t naur Csrac
naial ocaic ad Amspric Admiisrai
Irduci
 T 
he
 
scientific
 
community
 
is
 
generally
 
in
 
agreement 
 
 that 
 
global sea level is rising and coastal wetlands are changing asa result. Depending on local conditions, coastal wetlands maydisappear under the rising seas, persist in their current locations, ormigrate inland. In many places, these changes
have important ramications for the ecosystem
and economy. Understanding where and howcoastal environments could change in responseto sea level rise, however, is a complex challengedependent upon many factors—from interde-pendent ecological processes to data qualityand availability. As a result, resource managersand other coastal decision-makers need appro-priate tools that can help them to anticipate andprepare for the future effects of sea level rise on coastal wetlands.Many models and methods are being used for this purpose.Managers and other professionals with oversight responsibility forcoastal resources are often presented with model outputs in the formof maps that illustrate projected sea level rise and potential loss ormigration of coastal wetlands. These maps or visualizations may
appear to provide a denitive picture, when in fact each represents acollection of assumptions, compromises, and simplications based on
the amount and quality of available data and information and on themodel’s purpose. As a result, it can be challenging to interpret modelresults and to use the information appropriately. This document is intended for people who need to use modeloutputs for decision-making but who do notbuild models themselves. It provides a basicunderstanding of the parameters and uncer-tainties involved in modeling the future impactsof sea level rise on coastal wetlands. This is a
rst step toward informed use and commu
-nication of these models to support a rangeof sea level rise adaptation activities—fromstakeholder education to habitat management to land conserva-tion. Equipped with this conceptual understanding, managers andplanners will be able to more effectively
ask the right questions of technical specialists regarding modeluse and results,
evaluate the real-world implications of model results, and
incorporate modeling results into management initiatives.
thIS DoCUMent IS IntenDeD foRPeoPLe Who neeD to USe MoDeLoUtPUtS foR DeCISIon-MAkInGbUt Who Do not bUILD MoDeLStheMSeLveS.
Information in this documentapplies to a wide range of coastal wetlands, including
tidal freshwater, brackish,and salt marshes, and
coastal freshwater forestedand riparian wetlands.
 
 1

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