Thresholds of mangrove survival under rapid sea level rise

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1118-1121
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba2656

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Mangroves under sea level rise

The rate of sea level rise has doubled from 1.8 millimeters per year over the 20th century to ∼3.4 millimeters per year in recent years. Saintilan et al. investigated the likely effects of this increasing rate of rise on coastal mangrove forest, a tropical ecosystem of key importance for coastal protection (see the Perspective by Lovelock). They reviewed data on mangrove accretion 10,000 to 7000 years before present, when the rate of sea level rise was even higher than today as a result of glacial ice melt. Their analysis suggests an upper threshold of 7 millimeters per year as the maximum rate of sea level rise associated with mangrove vertical development, beyond which the ecosystem fails to keep up with the change. Under projected rates of sea level rise, they predict that a deficit between accretion and sea level rise is likely to commence in the next 30 years.

Science, this issue p. 1118; see also p. 1050


The response of mangroves to high rates of relative sea level rise (RSLR) is poorly understood. We explore the limits of mangrove vertical accretion to sustained periods of RSLR in the final stages of deglaciation. The timing of initiation and rate of mangrove vertical accretion were compared with independently modeled rates of RSLR for 78 locations. Mangrove forests expanded between 9800 and 7500 years ago, vertically accreting thick sequences of organic sediments at a rate principally driven by the rate of RSLR, representing an important carbon sink. We found it very likely (>90% probability) that mangroves were unable to initiate sustained accretion when RSLR rates exceeded 6.1 millimeters per year. This threshold is likely to be surpassed on tropical coastlines within 30 years under high-emissions scenarios.

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