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Climate change is having an impact on salt marshes in the southeastern United States through sea level rise, increases in air and water temperature, changes in precipitation patterns, and an increase in storm event intensity. However, the degree and intensity of these impacts vary from marsh to marsh, depending on local environmental conditions. Understanding this local variability is critical when making management decisions. Estuarine reserves in North and South Carolina are seeking to improve local understanding of climate change effects on southeastern marshes, and provide decision makers with the information and skills they need to address these vulnerabilities, by using the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Tool for Coastal Habitats, or CCVATCH. Created to help managers better understand the specific vulnerabilities of a habitat to climate change, this decision support tool incorporates existing information on climate change impacts with knowledge of local conditions to help users develop vulnerability scores for specific areas.
Applying CCVATCH in the Northeastern Reserves
Due to shared concerns about the potential impacts of climate change on Reserve managed lands, the four National Estuarine Research Reserves in the northeastern U.S. will individually apply the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Tool for Coastal Habitats (CCVATCH) at their Reserves for the purpose of identifying primary sources of vulnerability to assist with prioritization of management actions. The four Reserves will share the tasks of initial information gathering necessary for the application of CCVATCH, and capture of additional information identified during the suite of facilitated meetings hosted at each site, to generate a regionally relevant resource document. CCVATCH application at individual Reserves will also be coordinated to provide shared opportunities for training in tool structure and facilitation support. The project team is comprised primarily of stewardship, research, and coastal training program coordinators from the participating reserves who collectively bring to the project experience with partner collaboration, research and applied science investigations, and outreach product development. This collaborative effort will result in a greater understanding of the relative vulnerabilities of coastal habitats at specific sites and across the region, capture the ‘state of knowledge’ related to the direct effect of climate change and the interaction with existing non-climate stressors on assessed habitats, and identify data gaps and research needs. Project products will also include a set of ‘case studies’ demonstrating the utility of CCVATCH as a decision support tool and fact sheets/technical reports to inform broader audiences.
Understanding the Vulnerabilities of Southeastern Coastal Habitats to Climate Change Impacts
These works were sponsored by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, which supports collaborative research that addresses coastal management problems important to the reserves. The Science Collaborative is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the University of Michigan Water Center.