Kirkpatrick Marsh is home to the Global Change Research Wetland, a site dedicated to unraveling the complex ecological processes that confer stability on coastal marshes as they respond to global environmental change. Located at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
, this 23-hectare brackish marsh hosts several long-term experiments designed to predict what the future holds for coastal wetland ecosystems as they cope with accelerated sea-level rise.
Tidal wetlands provide some of nature’s most valuable ecosystem services. They improve water quality, serve as nurseries and habitat for wildlife, mitigate hurricane damage and sequester carbon. We seek to answer two urgent questions: Will tidal wetlands be able to build elevation quickly enough to survive rising seas and, if so, will they keep functioning the same as present marshes? To do this, we conduct forward-looking experiments on the impacts of carbon dioxide, temperature, and nitrogen, at levels projected into the next century. Because plant species respond very differently to each of these factors, we closely observe which species dominate the marsh under different scenarios.
Forecasting how tidal wetlands respond to global change requires a commitment to long-term research, a goal by our primary partner at NSF, the Long-term Research in Environmental Biology program. We freely share data, welcome collaborators from across the world, offer professional training to postdocs, graduate students, and interns, and engage the public in citizen science.
Each long-term experiment performed at the Global Change Research Wetland was designed to test hypotheses inspired by earlier experiments. Collectively, these studies illuminate the effects of single factors and interactions among multiple factors.