About this project

This project is developing a protocol to assess tidal marsh resilience at the landscape scale by using GIS-based metrics of current marsh condition, vulnerability to sea level rise, and potential for adaptation. The protocol will support standardized comparisons of marsh conditions over large areas (HUC 12 scale) with broadly similar land use, land cover, and hydrology characteristics, along the coasts and within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). Used in tandem with other NERRS-based marsh assessment tools, it can provide an integrated continuum of assessment to inform efforts to study, restore, or protect tidal marshes at the local, state, regional, and national scales.

How this project will help

Tidal marshes are under significant pressure from sea level rise and development. There is an urgent need to evaluate marsh resilience to such pressures in order to inform relevant research, monitoring programs, restoration projects, and marsh management plans. However, there are few tools to support “apples to apples” comparisons of marsh conditions across large geographic areas.

By using nationally standardized data sets that look at current and future conditions, this protocol provides a mechanism to compare marshes in different places in a systematic way that is not possible with variable, site-specific data. It incorporates information about surrounding land conditions, making it a useful tool for screening large areas for marshes with particular characteristics, targeting fieldwork, and strengthening experimental design. Because the protocol’s metrics take future conditions into consideration, it can be used for marsh restoration and migration planning. It is particularly valuable for assessing marshes that are difficult to access or infrequently visited.


This protocol will facilitate the spatial experimental design of research and monitoring programs by complementing existing tools used in field work in the NERRS, including the Sentinel Site Application Module (SSAM-1), the Marsh Assessment of Resilience to Sea level rise (MARS), and the rapid field assessment protocol. The table below offers a range of scenarios in which scientists, restoration practitioners, and land managers could use the protocol to make decisions in a cost-effective, realistic, and forward-looking way.


The NERRS/NOAA project team will develop the following products through this project:

  • Consensus-based, nationally consistent, landscape-scale protocol to assess marsh resilience
  • Landscape scale metrics for characterizing marsh resilience to sea level rise, based on current marsh conditions, including the following:
  • Connectivity: the ratio of open water to emergent marsh and surrounding agriculture
  • Vulnerability, i.e., percentage below mean high water, plant distribution at lower elevations,and tidal range
  • Adaptation potential, i.e., elevation, land use/land cover, soils, and armoring
  • Maps to assess NERRS sites within three bioregions using a higher resolution image
  • Segmentation protocol for select sites
  • Story map showing how NERRS can use this protocol and tool to assess marshes


Rachel Stevens, Stewardship Coordinator
Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Suzanne Schull, GIS Specialist
Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Nate Herold, Physical Scientist
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration
Office for Coastal Management