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CRMC awarded NOAA research grant

October 11, 2012, WAKEFIELD – The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management (CRMC) was recently awarded a $122,000 grant for studying the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on Rhode Island’s fragile coastal wetlands and tidal marshes.

The CRMC, along with project partners at The University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, and the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve received the grant for the project, “Development of Coastal Zone Management Tools and Strategies for Coastal Ecosystems Adaptation to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise.”

Coastal wetlands, particularly tidal marshes, are one of the most susceptible ecosystems to climate change and accelerated sea level rise (ASLR). A significant percentage of coastal wetlands may be lost by the end of the century unless upland areas abutting these wetlands are protected or otherwise set aside to allow for wetland migration in response to sea level rise.

According to the project abstract prepared by principals and CRMC staff James Boyd and Janet Freedman, the problem facing Rhode Island and other coastal states is how to best identify those upland areas that may at some point become coastal wetlands, and developing and implementing policies and methods to protect them.

The CRMC and its partners have formed a team to study potential impacts to coastal wetland ecosystems from sea level rise and the landward movement of coastal wetlands in Rhode Island’s 21 coastal communities. Coastal wetlands and abutting upland areas will be identified using recent LiDAR elevation data, existing digital Geographic Information System (GIS) data, and the Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model (SLAMM).

The modeling will use sea level rise projections of 0.3, 1.0 and 1.5 meters to show short- and long-term scenarios projected for Rhode Island. The resulting outcomes will lead to revisions to Rhode Island coastal program policies and standards, new climate change adaptation strategies, and new standards for coastal buffer zones and coastal wetland restoration projects. Another potential tool is the establishment of rolling easements in order to protect these critical areas. The project will create a publicly accessible web-based mapping tool to help local and state planners and policy makers analyze potential community and ecosystem impacts from sea level rise. In addition, the research team will hold workshops to provide outreach education to coastal communities to assist in local community planning efforts.

The Rhode Island project meets NOAA’s Next Generation Strategic Plan objectives – improving the tools and methods for assessing the susceptibility of coastal ecosystems to climate change, and using findings to inform decision-makers. Because many coastal states are faced with the same dilemma, this project and the lessons learned from it will be widely used and transferable to other states in the country, to assist in their efforts to protect and restore coastal wetlands nationwide. The project will be conducted over a two-year period ending in late summer 2014.

Project updates will be available on the CRMC web site until the mapping is completed. Go to www.crmc.ri.gov for more information.

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