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Ossabaw Island’s unspoiled environment is providing valuable baseline information to two scientific research projects led by the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology.

“Ossabaw Island is one of the few places where resiliency of intact barrier islands to sea level rise and extreme storms can be measured,” says Dr. Ron Carroll, a professor at the Odum School and Director of UGA’s River Basin Center.

The first of Carroll’s two projects investigates “how rising sea levels will likely change the coastal landscape over the next several decades,” says Carroll.

The sea level project uses radar and satellite imagery to measure small changes in the coast’s topography, mapping past changes and using those patterns to predict future changes. The changes are measured in increments of 30 centimeters (about 12 inches.) up to the one meter rise expected by most scientists.

The research is showing that a large part of the salt marsh on the coast will convert to open water.

“All we can do is show the expected changes, but there could be various kinds of adaptations that the salt marsh makes,” says Carroll.

The two year project, funded through grants from the State of Georgia and NOAA, will be completed later this year. UGA’s Department of Geography and Butler University’s Urban Ecosystem Center in Indiana are also participating in the project.

“When you see what the differences are [in projected sea level rise and water coverage over the next thirty years] it is quite shocking, actually.”

The second of the two research projects “examines development trends and projections, attempting to provide [coastal] communities with estimated market and non-market values of their changing landscape.”

This two-to-three year project began in mid 2010. “In its first year we are working on valuation of timberlands in Macintosh County,” says Carroll, “We anticipate using Ossabaw as a way of assessing the value of an intact barrier island within the coastal environment. In the future, we’ll be measuring the difference in erosion in the protected zone on Ossabaw and nearby coastal mainland with the rates of erosion on parts of the mainland that are not protected by barrier islands .”

“The real value for us for Ossabaw is it is basically a reference island,” says Carroll. “Especially regarding the second project. We can measure a component of the value of the island by showing how much an intact island protects the environment and economic activity of the adjacent coast.”

A goal of the second project is to assist with land use planning and economic development projections. “Economists are becoming more ecologically aware,” says Carroll, “recognizing the inherent dependence of the economy on the earth’s ecosystem.

“Climate and economic change models based on strong research foundations now give us a view of the future that was denied to previous generations,” says Carroll. “Ossabaw Island provides the reference for estimating the value of natural environments for protecting coastal economies.”

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Provides Baseline for UGA Research