Graham Sustainability Institute

Evaluating the Impact of Hydrologic Alterations on Salt Marsh Sustainability in a Changing Climate

Why this work?

Coastal managers are faced with the challenge of managing marsh hydrology in a way that meets human health needs, optimizes ecosystem services, and supports sustainability. In New England, this includes accounting for the effects of ditches that were dug decades ago in 90% of the region's salt marshes.

Ditches increase marsh drainage and reduce the spatial extent of shallow pools that may represent physical loss of buried soil carbon. However, efficient drainage may reduce the long-term sustainability of marshes by altering below ground biogeochemical and physical processes in a way that results in subsidence and lowered marsh elevation. Managers, restoration practitioners, and scientists at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project have expressed a need to understand the tradeoffs of hydologic management strategies (i.e. ditch remediation, density, maintenance) and identify actions that will achieve user-specified outcomes, such as drainage, maintaining elevation, and carbon burial. 

About this project

This project is a collaboration between scientists and end users to develop decision-support tools for marsh hydrological management strategies that promote sustainability and delivery of valuable ecosystem services under future sea level scenarios.

Project lead and contact

Amanda Spivak, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Email:

To learn more, view the project fact sheet (PDF) or visit the Marsh Sustainability and Hydrology project page at the Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution website.