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Current Affairs

Artificial salt marshes can help fight against rising seas

Date: 11 September 2020 Tags: Climate Change

Issue

A new and innovative method of using waste material to create salt marshes has helped stop advance of sea, which caused erosion.

 

Background

This phenomenon is called coastal squeeze. Communities behind those dikes are also at risk of catastrophic flooding if the ocean breaches the dikes.

 

Details

  • Sea level rise caused by climate change threatens these rich ecosystems, which support migratory birds, salmon, seals, and other marine life.

  • Dikes, built to prevent flooding, make them even more vulnerable. When the sea level rises, salt marshes can migrate landward — but not if they’re blocked by structures like dikes.

  • The project involves plan to deposit sediment in the marsh over three decades to raise its elevation and create a natural dike that can survive sea level rise.

  • The gradual pace will allow plant life to adapt. Adding sediment too fast could bury plants and affect animals that use those plants for food or shelter. 

  • Salt marshes in front of coastal dikes can reduce wave heights near the shore by as much as 40 percent, slowing down wave energy and reducing the risk of flooding.

  • They can also attenuate rainwater. They can stabilize sediment, reduce erosion, and further cushion wave action. 

  • This is drastically different from the notable concrete, human-made infrastructure to mitigate flooding, which has disrupted natural processes.

  • The marshes provide space for salmon to grow, eat, rest, and adapt to saltwater life. When the tide is high, the marshes are filled with invertebrates for salmon to feed on. When the tide goes out, the sand is picked over by small mammals and birds hunting for molluscs. 

  • The rich soils support microbial life and can absorb as much atmospheric carbon per unit area as soils in tropical rainforests.