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Assessing Nature’s Role in Resilience

Understanding How Natural Shorelines Reduce Flood Risk

Maryland's Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Study

Project Resources 

The Nature Conservancy, George Mason University, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources are working together to understand how nature can help protect coastal communities from storm and flood impacts as sea levels rise. Results will help shape decisions about where the state and its natural resource partners conserve, restore or enhance wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation and shorelines to enhance community resilience. Funding for this three-year study is provided by the NOAA Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program.


Coastal environments can significantly buffer people and infrastructure from coastal storms and help mitigate the effects of sea level rise. This study is demonstrating these benefits by quantifying the wave attenuation and flood reduction benefits of salt marshes, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and other natural and nature-based features (NNBF) along the shores of Maryland's Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal bays. 

Hydrodynamic and habitat data collected at target field sites and updated Sea Level Affecting Marsh Model (SLAMM) results are being integrated into coupled local and regional hydrodynamic and wave models (ADCIRC + SWAN, XBeach) to demonstrate the wave attenuation benefits of coastal habitats across the Maryland coastline now and into the future. 

Model results will be used to:

    • Calculate the economic value of the coastal protection benefits of NNBF via risk-reduction to infrastructure
    • Provide relatable, local examples to advance coastal preservation efforts by agencies throughout the state
    • Inform the state's management actions to maintain or enhance the ecosystem services of marshes
    • Support local outreach and identification of adaptation solutions to enhance coastal ecosystem and community resilience
    • Re-evaluate Chesapeake Bay SAV restoration goals
    • Improve existing conservation prioritization tools. 

A Management Transition Advisory Group (MTAG) of federal, state and local partners is being consulted to ensure study results support the project's management and adaptation planning goals. Collectively, this body of work aims to incentivize, prioritize, and streamline efforts to conserve coastal landscapes, and thus the people that rely on them, both now and into the future.


MTAG Decisions 

Six sea level rise scenarios from Maryland's 2018 report (Sea Level Rise Projections for Maryland) were selected for this study and will be used to model future marsh migration. These scenarios incorporate multiple emissions pathways and projection probabilities for application to different audiences. 

From the Field 

Franklin Point State Park, Assateague State Park, and Blackwater Wildlife Refuge were selected as field sites to monitor wave, water and current dynamics. George Mason University installed pressure transducers in Summer-Fall 2020 to measure hydrodynamic parameters and collect a long-term record of wave properties through natural wetlands. Ongoing fieldwork consists of sensor maintenance and vegetation surveys to measure plant density, height, and stem diameter in replicate subplots. Submerged aquatic vegetation was also surveyed at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge near the Karen Noonan Center. Seasonal patterns in plant biomass will be related to hydrodynamics to measure wave properties at all three sites.


Project team members introduced the study to local and national audiences at two conferences in fall 2020: 1) Maryland Association of Floodplain and Stormwater Managers Conference; and 2) The National Coastal and Estuarine Virtual Summit. These talks are accessible to MTAG project members via Google Drive. Both talks provide an overview of the project methods and expected outcomes. 

Model Progress 

The project team contracted with Warren Pinnacle Consulting, Inc., to run the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM). A data layer of current landscape conditions, or Time Zero, was generated by running SLAMM with current National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) wetlands, tide ranges, flooding frequency and cell elevations, and no sea level rise.

Project Timeline

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Jackie Specht,, The Nature Conservancy
Celso Ferreira,, George Mason University
Nicole Carlozo,, Maryland Department of Natural Resources


Felício Cassalho
​             Elliot Campbell
Michelle Canick
Dan Coleman
​             Nicole Carlozo
Jackie Specht
Celso Ferreira, Lead PI
​             Becky Golden
Tyler Miesse 

André de Souza de Lima

This project is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science under award NA16NOS4780205. This work has been funded (in part) by the Effects of Sea Level Rise (ESLR) competitive research Program.