A new study by scientists at the Water Institute of the Gulf indicates that exposure to saltwater leaves coastal wetlands less capable of battling the rising sea level.
The Courier reports the paper has implications for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, where freshwater marshes have long suffered erosion partly because of saltwater intrusion from the Gulf.
“Our coast is going to continue to change whether due to climate change or restoration efforts. Results of this study add to the knowledge base in preparing for that future,” Melissa Baustian, a researcher with the institute and the study’s lead author, tells the Houma newspaper.
Other authors of the report include researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Gulf South Research Corp., Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Tulane University. The paper was published in the latest edition of Wetlands, a peer-reviewed journal of the Society of Wetland Scientists.
Coastal wetlands depend on the annual cycle of birth and death of plant material to help build up soil height, the researchers say. The process is necessary for the land to stay ahead of relative sea level rise caused by sinking land and rising waters.
As salt rises in the wetlands, the researchers found, the amount of organic carbon in soil that can accumulate as a buffer against sea level rise decreases.