The Invisible Flood: The Chemistry, Ecology, and Social Implications of Coastal Saltwater Intrusion
An exploration of climate impacts on saltwater intrusion and their implications for adaptation in coastal ecosystems
Saltwater intrusion is the leading edge of sea-level rise, preceding tidal inundation, but leaving its salty signature far inland. With climate change, saltwater is shifting landward into regions that previously have not experienced or adapted to salinity, leading to novel transitions in biogeochemistry, ecology, and human land uses. We explore these changes and their implications for climate adaptation in coastal ecosystems. Biogeochemical changes, including increases in ionic strength, sulfidation, and alkalinization, have cascading ecological consequences such as upland forest retreat, conversion of freshwater wetlands, nutrient mobilization, and declines in agricultural productivity. We explore the trade-offs among land management decisions in response to these changes and how public policy should shape socioecological transitions in the coastal zone. Understanding transitions resulting from saltwater intrusion—and how to manage them—is vital for promoting coastal resilience.
Rebecca Epanchin-Niell is a senior fellow at RFF whose research focuses on ecosystem management, in particular examining how human behavior affects ecological resources as well as identifying strategies to improve management.
Emily S Bernhardt
Thomas E Jordan
Scott C Neubauer
Nathaniel B Weston
Media Highlight — Nov 13, 2023
Chesapeake Bay Journal: “Salt Patches, a Product of Rising Seas, Are Spreading Rapidly on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore”
A peer-reviewed article coauthored by RFF Senior Fellow Becky Epanchin-Niell is the subject of an article about saltwater intrusion in the Chesapeake region.
Resources Radio — Sep 26, 2023
Learning How to Mitigate Heat in Schools, with V. Kelly Turner
V. Kelly Turner discusses the impacts of heat on students in US schools, design choices that can mitigate heat on school grounds, and funding sources for improving school infrastructure.
Journal Article — Jul 20, 2023
The Spread and Cost of Saltwater Intrusion in the US Mid-Atlantic
This journal article develops a high-resolution dataset showing salt patches on farm fringes and quantifies the extent of salt-impacted lands across the Delmarva Peninsula.