Application of Ecological and Economic Models of the Impacts of Sea-Level Rise to the Delaware Estuary

This report, produced for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, describes a new method of climate adaptation planning that draws from the assessment of natural resource damages associated with oil spills and other episodic events. The proposed framework combines the wetland change modeling in SLAMM (Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model) with traditional damage assessment methods using habitat equivalency analysis (HEA). By combining a marsh migration model with a habitat equivalency model, the framework was developed for identifying and valuing the cost of efforts to address potential changes in wetlands habitats. The modelling tools allow estimation of gains and losses in the ecological service flows provided by coastal habitats as well as the projects necessary to maintain current wetland services. 

The framework first estimates habitat change resulting from increased sea-level rise. SLAMM is a spatial model that calculates rates of inundation, erosion, and saturation based on site-specific parameters. This information can be utilized by planners to demonstrate the likely effects of sea-level rise on wetland habitats. The output from SLAMM drives a HEA model that calculates the change in ecological services and identifies projects that provide suitable compensation for lost ecological services. The HEA model compares ecological services among habitat types and across time, allowing ecosystem managers to identify areas that will most benefit from protective measures and those that may best be left to adapt naturally.

This report presents the methodology and results of an investigation into potential changes in wetland habitats and associated ecological services under increased sea-level rise for the Delaware Estuary. The change in services results either from increased periodic inundation and changes in salinity, which alters the habitat type, or from complete inundation and conversion to open water. The investigation covers the tidal portion of the Delaware Estuary, from Cape May in New Jersey and Cape Henlopen in Delaware to Trenton, New Jersey. The estuary was divided into 27 subsites to allow for differentiation in site parameters and to meet data size restrictions within the SLAMM model. The investigation analyzed sites in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey to account for different areas within the Estuary.


Publication Date: June 2010

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  • Assessment
  • Assessment guide
  • Modeling tool

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