Decision-making for Coastal Adaptation: Sustaining Coastal Salt Marshes for Ecosystem Services along the Jersey Shore

2015 Aerial Photography of Marsh

Investigators: Richard G. Lathrop1, Josh Moody2, Martha Maxwell-Doyle3, Danielle Kreeger2, Mike Kennish4, Rachael Sacatelli1, LeeAnn Haaf2

1 Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, Rutgers University
2 Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
3 Barnegat Bay Partnership
4 Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University

July 2017


While sea level rise is a world-wide phenomenon, mitigating its impacts is a local decision-making challenge that is going to require site-specific remedies. Faced with a variety of conflicting mandates and uncertainty as to appropriate responses, local land use planners and managers need place-based decision support tools. Investment in any coastal wetland protection or enhancement option can be costly, so it is vitally important to make strategic enhancement and restoration decisions that promote the greatest possible ecosystem services while minimizing the costs.

This project builds on our conceptual model to assess present rates of seaward edge erosion, diminished marsh “elevation capital” due to the lowering of the marsh surface, enlargement of the internal drainage network and landward migration at the marsh/upland interface, to project those rates into the future and to recommend potential interventions to slow or reverse the loss of marsh area if warranted.

We built on the model to assess seaward edge erosion, platform “elevation capital”, and landward migration to predict the fate for selected Marshes of Interest (MOIs). Seven MOIs were studied: 2 in Delaware Bay; 3 in Great Bay; and, 2 in Barnegat Bay/Little Egg Harbor.


As our objective is to provide actionable information to support place-based decision-making, outputs from this project include a series of map products and leverages existing decision-support tools. These guidance products for coastal managers are referred to here as Marsh Futures maps.

Conceptual Model

In thinking about the driving factors affecting the long term sustainability of coastal marshes, we are using the following conceptual model:

  • Seaward edge: strategies to reduce to lateral erosion due to enhanced wave energy;
  • Marsh platform: strategies to maintain elevation capital in the form of vertical accretion rates equal to or greater than projected sea level rise;
  • Landward edge: strategies to retain flexibility for unimpeded landward migration.

Elevation Capital

This concept of elevation capital relates accretion rates and the tidal zone that dominant plants require for optimal growth to estimate the long-term prognosis of a vegetated marsh under a regime of rising sea levels. If marsh accretion rates are higher than rate of sea level rise, then elevation capital is increasing. Conversely, if marsh accretion rates are below the rate of sea level rise, then marsh elevation capital is decreasing. Intensive elevation/vegetation sampling was undertaken to identify locations within the MOIs that may be vulnerable to inundation and showing signs of stress.

Reports and Data

Full reports and GIS data are available for download from Rutgers University Libraries at the following link > .



Rick Lathrop
Director, Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)

Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
14 College Farm Road, Cook Campus
New Brunswick, NJ USA 08901-8551
Tel: 848/932-1582
Fax: 732/932-2587

GIS data for this project was generated by the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA), Rutgers University, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, the Barnegat Bay Partnership, and Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Web site composed by the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA), © 2017. Page contents last updated 08/30/2017.

CRSSA - Rutgers University Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Barnegat Bay Partnership