Water Tables and Wetlands

Some wetlands won’t stay wet, according to new research that blends long-term observations and climate projections.

“By end of the 21st century, all five of the wetland sites studied are predicted to become much drier,” says USDA Forest Service research hydrologist Ge Sun.

The five wetlands are long-term research sites located throughout the southeastern U.S. They include:

  • A Carolina bay depressional forested wetland in South Carolina. Carolina bays are always oval, and the tips of the oval always point to the northwest and southeast. Their origins are a mystery.
  • Two lower coastal plain wetlands in North Carolina, an undisturbed bottomland hardwood wetland in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and a pocosin that has been drained and replaced with a loblolly pine plantation.
  • Two sites in the pine flatwoods of Florida, a cypress pond wetland and an upland site dominated by slash pine plantation forests.

In some of the wetlands, the water table could retreat by more than eight inches. Water tables in other areas could experience only minor changes. But even small changes in the depth of the water table – just four inches or less – may have profound impacts on wetlands.

Drier wetlands are more likely to burn. Exotic plants may also invade. The changes can cause chain reactions affecting many of the unique functions of wetlands.

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