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Research: Vulnerability of shallow tidal water habitats in Virginia to climate change

retreating shorelineThe Commonwealth of Virginia has extensive areas of shallow tidal water supporting essential habitats for estuarine flora and fauna along its thousands of miles of shoreline. Shallow water environments are vital to the coastal community, providing an enormous mix of ecological services. Managing coastal habitats for sustained ecosystem functioning, while accommodating increasing developmental pressures, has never been simple. The challenge is multiplied by the fact that the entire system is changing, driven by both human uses and climate change. Effective management requires some understanding of not only current conditions, but also potential future conditions.  The state of scientific understanding does not yet support precise forecasting, but there is a sufficient array of information to begin assessing potentials for change in some key components of the system.

The principal objective of this study was to develop a characterization of current shallow-water habitat components in Virginia tidal waters and predict climate driven changes to these habitats.

To project broad-scale climate change effects on the abundance and distribution of coastal habitats, an inundation model based on anticipated relative sea-level rise, temperature and salinity projections, and coastal development were integrated into a GIS modeling framework. Using this framework, simple models were constructed that forecast the distribution of key coastal habitat parameters within the next 50 to 100 years including: shallow-water areas, tidal wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation and estuarine beaches. The purpose is to inform management and planning efforts by identifying areas at significant risk for changes to habitat components, and areas with significant potential to support critical habitat components in the future. This will enable managers to make proactive decisions that can mitigate impacts and preserve opportunities for sustained habitat services as the estuarine system evolves.  From a practical perspective, understanding potential futures can inform targeting of limited management resources to areas at greatest risk and/or areas with the greatest probability for successful outcomes.


- Detailed project methodology and results are documented in the Final Report: Vulnerability of shallow tidal water habitats in Virginia to climate change
- An interactive web-based map interface was created using ESRI ArcIMS® to allow users to view current habitat distribution, modeled climate change output, as well as all base layers used in analyses.
- For each Chesapeake Bay Segment, individual maps were created depicting potential shifts in key coastal habitats:
shallow water wetlands

Shallow-Water and Tidal Wetlands - depiction of existing tidal wetland (vegetated & non-vegetated) and shallow-water habitat, with projected shifts due to sea level rise

tidal marsh

Tidal Marsh Vulnerability - depiction of existing tidal marsh and vulnerability to inundation from projected sea level rise within 50-100 years. Marshes classified at low risk represent potential wetland preservation opportunities

estuarine beach

Estuarine Beach Vulnerability  - depiction of existing estuarine beach and vulnerability to inundation from projected sea level rise within 50-100 years. Beaches classified at low risk represent potential habitat preservation opportunities

submerged aquatic vegetation

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation - depiction of existing submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and projected shifts due to sea level rise and elevated temperatures

developed lands

Vulnerable Developed Lands - depiction of existing developed lands and vulnerability to inundation from projected sea level rise

Users may place their cursor over the desired location and click to select or scroll to the bottom of the map and select a particular segment name.

chesapeake bay segments Chesapeake Bay Segments - MPNOH Chesapeake Bay Segments Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments - POCMH Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments - POCOH Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments - POTMH Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments - POTOH Virginia Chesapeake Bay Segments - POTTF

Potomac River
POTTF - Upper Potomac River
POTOH- Middle Potomac River
POTMH - Lower Potomac River
Pocomoke River
POCOH - Upper Pocomoke River
POCMH - Lower Pocomoke River
York River and Tributaries
MPNTF - Upper Mattaponi River
MPNOH - Lower Mattaponi River
PMKTF - Upper Pamunkey River
PMKOH - Lower Pamunkey River
YRKMH - Middle York River
YRKPH - Lower York River
James River and Tributaries
JMSTF - Upper James River
CHKOH - Chickahominy River
JMSOH - Upper James River
JMSMH - Middle James River
JMSPH - Lower James River
Rappahannock River
RPPTF - Upper Rappahannock River
RPPOH - Middle Rappahannock River
RPPMH - Lower Rappahannock River
Chesapeake Bay
CB5MH - Upper Western Chesapeake Bay
TANMH - Tangier Island
CB6PH - Chesapeake Bay Western Shore
CB7PH - Chesapeake Bay Eastern Shore
CB8PH - Chesapeake Bay Near Mouth
Corrotoman River
CRRMH - Corrotoman River
Southern Chesapeake Bay Rivers
ELIPH - Elizabeth River
LAFMH - Laffayette River
LYNPH - Lynnhaven River

 

Piankatank River
PIAMH - Piankatank River
Mobjack Bay
MOBPH - Mobjack Bay

noaa logo

Funding was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office. 


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