Appalachian Laboratory

Predicting Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise


Hog Island gut at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve (NPS). Tidal freshwater marsh is a diverse plant community providing numerous ecosystem services to the National Capital Region.

Global climate change is resulting in sea level rise in many coastal systems worldwide. Parks in the National Capital Region (NCR) of the National Park Service (NPS), including George Washington Memorial Parkway, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, National Capital Parks – East, Rock Creek Park, and the National Mall and Memorial Parks, manage land along the tidal freshwater sections of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. The impact of sea level rise in these parks is arguably the most pressing problem related to climate change.

Low-lying coastal areas in the NCR parks contain a diversity of natural, cultural, and historical resources as well as important transportation resources.  The relative rate of sea level rise for the Washington, DC region is roughly 3.5 mm/yr. Rising sea level could result in more frequent inundation, possible displacement of resources,and higher risk of storm damage. These risks are compounded by trends in coastline development, which limits flexibility and increases the cost of the most practical management solutions. It is incumbent upon the NPS to identify the possible risks to resources and develop strategies to adapt to potential changes.  It is also important for the NPS to look at current and future restoration or capital improvement plans to determine if they account for the potential impacts resulting from sea level rise.

This project focuses on tidal freshwater marshes and coastal forests to evaluate the vulnerability of NPS biological resources (habitat, species diversity, and risk of invasive species) to sea level rise, and to provide park managers with information and tools to improve their ability to make informed management decisions.  Even though examining the impact to cultural resources is not a focus of this project, the tools, data, and results could be leveraged to determine areas of risk.