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Climate Change Impacts to Natural Resources in South Carolina

Climate Change Impacts to Natural Resources in South Carolina

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Published by The State Newspaper
The SC Department of Natural Resources released this report April 9, 2013, after completing it in 2012.
The SC Department of Natural Resources released this report April 9, 2013, after completing it in 2012.

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Published by: The State Newspaper on Apr 10, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/14/2013

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Estuarine systems are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth and may be
among the most sensitive to impacts of climate change as a result of changes in sea
level and variation in rainfall that may shift salinity profiles and changes in biotic

96

IPCC. 2007.

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composition.97

Shifts in salinity profiles in the estuarine system will depend entirely

upon freshwater input and rainfall.98

The projections for rainfall in South Carolina under
a warming climate are unknown and require DNR to plan for a range of contingencies.
The past decade has been dominated by drought conditions with accompanying shifts
in the distribution of species within estuaries. Changes in biotic composition and the
prevalence and seasonal distribution of diseased organisms must be expected, but little
data exist to predict possible ramifications.

Salinity profiles in estuaries are expected to change as a result of both sea-level rise
and changes in precipitation patterns. The former will shift the salinity regimes up
estuaries; however the impact of the latter is unknown, as current models do not provide
a clear direction to anticipated rainfall in South Carolina over the next few decades.99
While estuarine species are renowned for their ability to tolerate salinity shifts over a
tidal cycle, many have optimal ranges and move in the system according to prevailing
conditions.

The worst scenario for sea-level rise could result in a landward shift in salinity resulting
from sea-level rise accompanied by drought. This scenario would compress the
available habitat, due in part to coastal development, likely resulting in reduced salt-
marsh habitat in the optimal salinity ranges. Reduction of the spatial area covered by
the salt marsh would reduce abundance and reproduction of estuarine species, as well
as affect the entire ecosystem.

Another apparent consequence of extended droughts is drying out and dieback of
saltwater marshes. The severe drought in 1999-2002 is thought primarily to have been
responsible for salt marsh diebacks along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.100
Studies in the Gulf of Mexico suggest that the drought caused low pH levels which
resulted in greater bioavailability of metals which may have been responsible for
Spartina mortality. On the South Carolina coast, both marsh meadows and marsh
fringing tidal creek channels died in 2002.101

It also is possible that low ground water
levels resulting from drought may be related to salt marsh die offs. Salt marsh dieback
has obvious implications including a reduction in primary productivity and increased
vulnerability to predators of juvenile fishes and invertebrates.102

97

Michener, W., E. Blood, K. Bildstein, M. Brinson, and L. Gardner. 1997. Climate change, hurricanes and tropical
storms and rising sea level in coastal wetlands. Ecological Applications. 7(3):770-801.

98

Meynecke J., S. Lee, N. Duke andJ. Warnken. 2006. Effect of rainfall as a component of climate change on
estuarine fish production in Queensland, Australia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Sci. 69:491-504

99

IPCC. 2007.

100

Alber, M., E. Swenson, S. Adamowicz and I. Mendelssohn. 2008. Salt Marsh Dieback: An overview of recent
events in the US. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 80:201-211.

101

D. Whitaker, personal observation. Dec 2002.

102

Minelo, T. and R. Zimmerman. 1985. Differential selection for vegetative structure between juvenile brown
shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) and white shrimp (Peneus setiferus), and implications for predator–prey relationships.
Estuarine Coastal Shelf Sci. 20:707–716.

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