Climate change: Sea rise could kill vital marshes

American avocets, which are frequently seen in tidal marshes, fly into a Petaluma marsh.

The critical tidal marshes of San Francisco Bay - habitat for tens of thousands of birds and other animals - will virtually disappear within a century if the sea rises as high as some scientists predict it will as a result of global warming.

The sea would inundate the coastline and eliminate 93 percent of the bay's tidal wetlands if carbon emissions continue unchecked and the ocean rises 5.4 feet, as predicted by scientists under a worst-case scenario, according to a new study by PRBO Conservation Science.

The tidal areas closest to the Golden Gate, including Richardson Bay in Marin County and much of the East Bay coastline, were identified as most vulnerable to sea level rise.

"Marshes cannot keep up with the high-end sea level rise predictions," said Diana Stralberg, a research associate with PRBO, also known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and the lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the online science journal PLoS One.

"If we can't slow down sea level rise," said Stralberg, who is working on a doctorate degree at the University of Alberta, "we will need to identify and protect areas where marshes can migrate to."

The researchers measured the depth of mud, sediment and plant material in the existing marshes along the San Francisco Bay coastline and analyzed the impact on the wetlands under a variety of different scenarios.

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