Marshes are a critical habitat for a diversity of fauna and the ecological functioning of the coast. Despite their renowned vulnerability, uncertainty of wetland responses to sea-level rise remains a pervasive concern in coastal science and management, particularly for coastal resource conservation and climate change adaptation. Inventorying and mapping marsh dynamics have emerged as high priorities for assessing regional vulnerability to sea-level rise, requiring synthesis of existing marsh habitat maps, improved methodology for their continual monitoring, and assessment of their vulnerability with modeling and analysis. Multispectral remote sensing (balloon-, airplane- and satellite-based), LiDAR, NWI wetland mapping, and newly available ALOS PALSAR imagery will be integrated to map the distribution of key high and low marshes for multiple, different sites across the region. Our team includes researchers in North Carolina (East Carolina University), South Carolina (Baruch Institute, University of South Carolina), and Georgia (Skidaway Institute for Oceanography) having proven collaborative experience with governmental and NGO organizations who confront coastal resource management. This focused effort provides for three critical needs: 1) mapping high and low marshes with ultra-high resolution multispectral imagery, including ecotone delineation and derivation of shoreline and habitat change rates from prior aerial mapping campaigns, for sentinel sites across the Southeast; 2) estimating the vulnerability of marsh habitat from LiDAR hypsometric analysis of vertical and areal elevation distribution on the local tidal frame; and 3) expanding application of new remote sensing algorithms for broad-scale, high-resolution marsh maps using integrated Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), LiDAR, and multispectral data with object-based image analysis (OBIA) techniques recently prototyped for the USFWS National Wetland Inventory Southeast. Vulnerability maps will highlight potential future wetland losses and sites for adaptive management or restoration. Derived ecotones, erosion, and migration process rates and areal changes will inform landscape ecological response models (e.g. SLAMM 6 calibration and sensitivity.) Differential change and vulnerability across the landscape will also facilitate resource managers’ prioritization of sites and appropriate practices for restoration or adaptation. Project results will be disseminated as geospatial products, professional presentations and publications, and digital multimedia products in order to inform the public and promote long-term management, resource decision-support, and stewardship.
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