A Multi-Decadal Investigation of Tidal Creek Wetland Changes, Water Level Rise and Ghost Forests
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A Multi-Decadal Investigation of Tidal Creek Wetland Changes, Water Level Rise and Ghost Forests

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  • Journal Title:
    Remote Sensing
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    Coastal wetlands play a vital role in protecting coastlines, which makes the loss of forested and emergent wetlands devastating for vulnerable coastal communities. Tidal creeks are relatively small hydrologic areas that feed into larger estuaries, are on the front lines of the interface between saltwater and freshwater ecosystems, and are potentially the first areas to experience changes in sea level. The goal of this study was to investigate wetland changes through time at two tidal creeks (Smith Creek and Town Creek) of the Cape Fear River estuary in southeastern North Carolina, USA, to determine if there is a spatial relationship between habitat change, physical geography characteristics, and the rate of wetland migration upstream. Historic aerial photography and recent satellite imagery were used to map land cover and compute change through time and were compared with derived physical geography metrics (sinuosity, creek width, floodplain width, floodplain elevation, and creek slope). The primary results were: (1) there was a net gain in emergent wetlands even accounting for the area of wetlands that became water, (2) wetlands have migrated upstream at an increasing rate through time, (3) land cover change was significantly different between the two creeks (P = 0.01) where 14% (67.5 ha) of Smith Creek and 18% (272.3 ha) of Town Creek transitioned from forest to emergent wetland, and (4) the transition from emergent wetland to water was significantly related to average change in creek width, floodplain elevation, and average water level. In conclusion, this research correlated habitat change with rising water level and identified similarities and differences between neighboring tidal creeks. Future research could apply the methodologies developed here to other coastal locations to further explore the relationships between tides, sea level, land cover change, and physical geography characteristics.
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    Remote Sens. 2020, 12(7), 1141
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    CC BY
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