Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Coastal Ecosystem Services for Mid-Atlantic States

Coastal Ecosystem Services for Mid-Atlantic States

The Nicholas Institute collaborated with six eastern seaboard states (North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York) and PlanIt Forward, LLC on a U.S. Climate Alliance-funded project to map coastal habitats’ contributions to coastal protection and blue carbon storage.

The Nicholas Institute modeled:

  1. Protection service from current coastal habitats
  2. Salt marsh loss and migration with sea level rise (and implications for inland coastal habitats)
  3. Current and future carbon storage in coastal salt marsh and sea grass habitats (blue carbon).



The resulting maps show where coastal habitats protect the shoreline from hazards such as storms and erosion (Figure 1), how the extent and location of coastal habitats are projected to change due to sea level rise, and the effect of these changes on the amount of carbon stored by coastal habitats through the end of the century (Figure 2).  

A journal article on the habitat change and carbon flux analysis summarizes the results at the regional scale and identifies several key uncertainties as targets for future research.


Figure 1: Mid-Atlantic shoreline
Figure 1: Mid-Atlantic shoreline benefiting from significant protection by coastal habitats. Colors indicate the shoreline’s level of exposure to coastal hazards such as storms and erosion.


Net carbon flux by coastal habitats through the end of the century

Figure 2: Net carbon flux by coastal habitats through the end of the century. The no SLR column for each state is the projected amount of carbon sequestration by coastal habitats if they were not influenced by sea level rise. The second column is the projected net carbon flux by coastal habitats with 1.2 meters of sea level rise. The states’ coastal habitats may become a net source of carbon emissions as drowned marshes and lost forests release stored carbon.


Thanks to our state partners for their guidance and feedback on this project.

North Carolina: Carolyn Currin (NOAA), Lora Eddy (The Nature Conservancy), Stacey Feken (Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership), Sarah Spiegler (NC Sea Grant)

Virginia: Molly Mitchell (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), Ann Phillips (Virginia Office of the Governor), Mark Luckenbach (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), Tom Allen (Old Dominion University), Elizabeth Spach (Virginia Office of the Governor), and Benjamin Nettleton (Virginia Office of the Governor)

Maryland: Elliott Campbell (MD Department of Natural Resources), Nicole Carlozo (MD Department of Natural Resources), Jason Dubow (MD Department of Planning), Susan Payne (MD Department of Agriculture), and Deborah Herr Cornwell (MD Department of Planning)

Delaware: Mark Biddle, Kari St. Laurent, and Jennifer DeMooy (all DE Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control)

New Jersey: Becky Hill, Metthea Yepsen, David DuMont, Elizabeth Semple, and Ruth Foster (all NJ Department of Environmental Protection)

New York: Riobart Breen and Willow Eyres (both NY Department of Environmental Conservation)