Wetlands are vulnerable to climate change
Because of their position where land and waters meet, wetlands are at risk of damage from climate change. The response of individual wetlands to climate change will depend on:
- Exposure to altered climate conditions.
- Sensitivity to those changes.
- Potential impacts from exposure and sensitivity.
- Capacity to adapt.1
Carbon cycle and microbial processes take a long time to develop in wetlands. For example, the organic soil in peatlands can take thousands of years to develop- it can take up to 250 years for just one inch of peat to accumulate.2
Disturbance of those systems can result in loss of the carbon stored in those soils to the atmosphere.3
Undisturbed wetlands store nearly twice as much carbon as wetlands disturbed by human activities.4
Wetlands that rarely dry out are expected to shift to more frequent drying in some areas, and wetlands that currently are frequently dry may be lost in some areas. In other areas where precipitation is expected to increase or the timing is expected to change, wetlands that occasionally dry out may become wetter.5
All of these changes can alter water quality, water quantity, and habitat functions and services.6, 7
Wetlands in some areas may be at greater risk. For example, montane wetlands are expected to be affected by higher temperatures, less snow pack, and earlier snow melt, resulting in a loss of more seasonal wetlands and habitats suitable for amphibians and wetland invertebrates.8
In addition to changes in temperature and precipitation, coastal wetlands will be impacted by sea level rise. In the Puget Sound region, sea level is expected to rise gradually by 15 to 54 inches.9
This rise in sea level can result in water depths too deep for coastal wetland plants to survive. In areas where coastal wetlands are not able to move inland as the water rises, they may disappear.