Bye-Bye Marshes, Hello Mud
Because of climate change, San Francisco's delicate marshes could soon be a thing of the past.
By now, we're used to hearing about the threats sea level rise poses to human society: It can wash away urban areas, give a boost to storms, and swallow island nations. But new research from a team at the US Geological Survey shows that rising seas can also devastate fragile ecosystems.
Using a custom-built sea level modeling tool, USGS's Western Ecological Research Center forecast the future for a dozen salt marshes in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to several species of federally protected birds and other animals. The predictions are grim: 95 percent of the marsh area could become mudflats by 2100, the effect of four feet of sea level rise (a level projected by previous studies). That's a problem for marsh-loving endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse (left) and the California black rail bird, both found only in the Bay Area, and for other beach-dwelling birds that count on solid ground to lay their nests.
Take a look at the video below, which shows the projection for a marsh in San Pablo Bay; yellow is land, light blue is average sea level, and dark blue is high water level:
By the end, no more marsh (have a favorite Bay Area marsh? You can see projections for it here). Here's that same story, told a different way, as the marsh goes from a healthy green to muddy brown: