For her summer research project, marine and environmental biology and policy student Nicole Cappolina studied how sea level rise will impact Clam Cove Island, a small marsh island in the Barnegat Bay. Her analysis concluded that a sharp increase in tidal inundation events will alter the makeup of vegetation on the island, shifting to plant species that will be more salt-tolerant but less effective at protecting nearby Long Beach Island communities from climate change.
Below, Cappolina discusses her research at the 15th Annual School of Science Summer Research Symposium. Each year, the school hosts the public poster session, where students can present the work they conducted from May-August under the supervision of faculty mentors. Abstracts from all of this year’s presenters are available online.
Poster Title: Analyzing the Frequency of Inundation of Clam Cove Island, Holgate, NJ, with Sea Level Rise
Faculty Mentor: Urban Coast Institute (UCI) Associate Director Tom Herrington
Funding Source: UCI Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars Program
Abstract: As global sea levels continue to rise, there are growing concerns about the frequency of tidal flooding and its impacts in the near future. Frequent inundation of marshes disrupts the natural balance between salt and freshwater. This imbalance will likely cause a change in vegetation, favoring salt and flood tolerant species. For example, a shift in species of marsh grasses, Spartina patens to Spartina alterniflora, is expected to be seen. Marshes are important ecosystems to conserve as they serve a large role in protecting coastal communities from flooding and possible destruction. A regime shift in marsh ecosystems could result in less resilience and protection.
Clam Cove Island is one of several barrier marshlands that borders Long Beach Island, New Jersey. In recent years, it has suffered significant erosion. The aim of this research was to analyze the frequency of inundation of Clam Cove with sea level rise. Historic water levels recorded at the Rutgers Field Station in Tuckerton, NJ from 2003-2017 were used to determine how frequently the water elevation was above the surface elevation of Clam Cove, which is about 1.5 ft above the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD88). The results show that water elevations currently exceed this threshold of about 18 high tides per year. Expected sea level rise rates under moderate emission scenarios provided by Rutgers University were then used to predict future frequency of inundation events. This analysis found that by 2030, Clam Cove would experience inundation for 138 high tides per year. This number exponentially increases to about 360 times per year by 2050, 614 times by 2070, and 717 times by 2100, which is about 358 days of the year. This research can be used to develop sea level rise management strategies and marsh restoration to ensure safety to surrounding coastal communities.