Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere has steadily increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) in preindustrial times to 381 ppm today and is predicted by some models to double within the next century. Some of the important pathways whereby changes in atmospheric CO2 may impact coastal wetlands include changes in temperature, rainfall, and hurricane intensity (fig. 1). Increases in CO2 can contribute to global warming, which may (1) accelerate sea-level rise through melting of polar ice fields and steric expansion of oceans, (2) alter rainfall patterns and salinity regimes, and (3) change the intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes. Sea-level rise combined with changes in storm activity may affect erosion and sedimentation rates and patterns in coastal wetlands and maintenance of soil elevations.
Feedback loops between plant growth and hydroedaphic conditions also contribute to maintenance of marsh elevations through accumulation of organic matter. Although increasing CO2 concentration may contribute to global warming and climate changes, it may also have a direct impact on plant growth and development by stimulating photosynthesis or improving water use efficiency. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are examining responses of wetland plants to elevated CO2 concentration and other factors. This research will lead to a better understanding of future changes in marsh species composition, successional rates and patterns, ecological functioning, and vulnerability to sea-level rise and other global change factors.
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USGS Numbered Series
Potential Effects of Elevated Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) on Coastal Wetlands