SETr: Developing Tools and Visualizations to Track Changes in Wetland Surface Elevation

  • Tidal wetlands across the United States experience sea level rise differently based on a variety of local factors. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

    Tidal wetlands across the United States experience sea level rise differently based on a variety of local factors. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

  • Some coastal marshes gain elevation and keep up with sea level rise, while other marshes are submerged and their habitat lost. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

    Some coastal marshes gain elevation and keep up with sea level rise, while other marshes are submerged and their habitat lost. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

  • The National Estuarine Research Reserve System has been monitoring changes to coastal marsh and collected a rich Sentinel Site dataset. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

    The National Estuarine Research Reserve System has been monitoring changes to coastal marsh and collected a rich Sentinel Site dataset. Photo credit: Sandra Huynh

  • This data includes Surface Elevation Tables that show precise measurements of marsh surface over time. Photo credit: Delaware NERR

    This data includes Surface Elevation Tables that show precise measurements of marsh surface over time. Photo credit: Delaware NERR

  • The project developed tools using R software to help coastal mangers work with Surface Elevation Table data.

    The project developed tools using R software to help coastal mangers work with Surface Elevation Table data.

  • These tools were used to evaluate Surface Elevation Table data from 15 reserves across the United States to better understand variation and trends in how coastal marsh is impacted by sea level rise.

    These tools were used to evaluate Surface Elevation Table data from 15 reserves across the United States to better understand variation and trends in how coastal marsh is impacted by sea level rise.

Can tidal wetlands keep up with sea level rise? To better understand this critical coastal management question, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System expanded long term monitoring of coastal marshes, and most reserves across the continental United States have been collecting data with Surface Elevation Tables (SETs) for several years. These precise measurements of marsh surface height over time can track the natural changes in marsh elevation that occur through plant root growth and sediment deposition, and then compare that rate of change with sea level rise. Despite wide spread interest, marsh elevation data across the reserve system has been a largely untapped goldmine that can help scientists, managers, and the public understand how changes in marsh elevation compare to sea level rise and the nature of climate impacts in different coastal regions.

In order to better utilize this rich dataset, this project developed new tools to process, analyze, and communicate about surface elevation change. The project produced a suite of open-source data analysis tools and a workflow using R that help users generate reports and visualizations to communicate with technical and nontechnical audiences. The user-friendly tools and collaboration created through this project filled a key gap, enhanced the usability of SET data to address coastal management challenges, and supported more effective communication with general audiences.