The invisible flood: The chemistry, ecology, and social implications of coastal saltwater intrusion


Saltwater intrusion is the leading edge of sea-level rise, preceding tidal inundation, but leaving its salty signature far inland. With climate change, saltwater is shifting landward into regions that previously have not experienced or adapted to salinity, leading to novel transitions in biogeochemistry, ecology, and human land uses. We explore these changes and their implications for climate adaptation in coastal ecosystems. Biogeochemical changes, including increases in ionic strength, sulfidation, and alkalinization, have cascading ecological consequences such as upland forest retreat, conversion of freshwater wetlands, nutrient mobilization, and declines in agricultural productivity. We explore the trade-offs among land management decisions in response to these changes and how public policy should shape socioecological transitions in the coastal zone. Understanding transitions resulting from saltwater intrusion—and how to manage them—is vital for promoting coastal resilience.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Kate Tully, University of Maryland
Keryn Gedan, George Washington University
Rebecca S. Epanchin-Niell
Aaron Strong, University of Maine
Emily S. Bernhardt
Todd BenDor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Molly Mitchell
John Kominoski, Florida International University
Thomas E. Jordan
Scott C. Neubauer
Nathaniel B. Weston