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Scientists sound alarm over concerning discovery in Louisiana wetlands: 'A problem of utmost … importance'

"Sea-level rise … [is] among the most severe consequences of climate change."

"Sea-level rise ... [is] among the most severe consequences of climate change."

Photo Credit: iStock

Faster-than-expected sea level rise is drowning wetland grasses. Wetlands serve an important role as nature's buffer for hurricanes along our coastlines. Scientists monitoring Louisiana's coastal wetlands found the state's low-lying marshes are unable to keep pace with rising sea levels, making the state more vulnerable to future storms.

What's happening?

Climatologists aren't surprised that sea levels are rising along coastlines in the United States, but they are alarmed by a sudden spike that has occurred over the past 13 years, the Washington Post explains. A rise in sea levels is a byproduct of a world that is connected to warming because of the effects of human activity. 

Warmer water means melting glaciers and ice sheets. That melting, combined with the increased volume of water because of thermal expansion, has contributed to a global mean sea level rise of about 8-9 inches since 1880, the figure cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The 2022 global sea level was the highest annual average in the satellite record (from 1993 to the present). In 2023 a NASA analysis found a rise of 0.3 inches from 2022 to 2023. This is considered a relatively large increase and is attributed mainly to rising global temperatures and a strong El Niño that developed last year. The sea level rise in the south and southeast is outpacing other portions of the U.S. coastline.

A new study in Nature Communications warns Louisiana's wetlands can't keep pace with the rapid rise in sea level. 

The researchers monitored 253 sites and found "87% of these sites are unable to keep up with rising water levels." Those wetlands serve as natural barriers that can help protect inland areas by dissipating energy from tropical storms and also diminishing the impact of small to moderate storm surges. 

The study's authors wrote: "Sea-level rise and its threat to low-elevation coastal zones ranks among the most severe consequences of climate change due to its expected role in driving human migration, along with its detrimental impact on coastal ecosystems that rank among the most valuable on the planet." 

The authors further pointed out that the impacts are "a problem of utmost scientific and societal importance," according to the Washington Post.

What is being done?

Many countries around the world realize the importance of wetlands and are acting to protect and restore them. 

China is using "sponge cities" that are designed to soak up more water by installing green areas to replace concrete and other surfaces that don't absorb rainfall as readily. The United Kingdom's Great North Bog covers nearly 3,000 square miles and stores more than 400 million tons of carbon, which might otherwise warm the planet.

How can I help?

NOAA suggests volunteering for clean-up projects in your community and helping spread the word about our vanishing wetlands. Choosing native species when planting, including plants native to wetlands where it is appropriate, can also help. 

NOAA also recommends abiding by the "3 R's" rule of "reduce, reuse, and recycle." This includes composting trash, donating clothes rather than throwing them in the garbage, and taking advantage of reusable bags and water bottles.

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