Marsh Surface Elevation

Climate change, particularly sea level rise, is an important factor leading to the deterioration of Maryland’s coastal marshes. The only way marshes can keep up with increasing water levels is by building up their elevation (through sediment accumulation on top of the marsh soil surface) and/or by migrating to uplands.

Does soil elevation dictate where plant species belong in a tidal freshwater marsh? See Erica Loudermilk's (JBWS Summer 2015 Research Intern) research report to find out...

In an effort to better understand how the marshes in Jug Bay will respond to sea level rise, the Sanctuary, in collaboration with CBNERR-MD, started in 2007 a project to monitor marsh soil elevation change (as a result of erosion, marsh settlement, sediment accumulation) using a field techniques called “Surface Elevation Table (SET)”. This technique is widely employed around the world as they allow scientists to determine if a marsh will be able to survive sea level rise trends. If a marsh surface elevation increases at a similar or greater rate that the increase in water levels, it is expected that the marsh will be able to survive, otherwise the marsh will start to become more flooded and fall apart.

Jug Bay has a total of 17 active SETs established at three different Jug Bay marsh areas: Western Branch, Railroad Bed, and Mataponi Creek. In each of these areas, SETs were located in low and high marsh zones and were distributed along marsh plant transects that are also monitored. All SETs are measured twice a year: in the spring (start of growing season) and fall (start of non-growing season).

Monitoring Objectives:
   1. Determine if in the long-term these marshes would be able to keep up with projected sea-level rise trends.
   2. Promote the use of this data to manage and protect Jug Bay’s vulnerable marshes.
   3. Promote the use of results from this project for education and stewardship purposes.

Volunteers are critical to the research conducted here. Click to get involved.