London, July 24 : Mangrove forests could play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea-level rise caused by climate change, a new study has found.
The team used leading-edge mathematical simulations to study how mangrove forests in New Zealand respond to elevated sea levels.
"As a mangrove forest begins to develop, the creation of a network of channels is relatively fast. Tidal currents, sediment transport and mangroves significantly modify the estuarine environment, creating a dense channel network," said Barend van Maanen from the University of Southampton.
Areas without mangroves are likely to widen from erosion and more water will encroach inwards, whereas mangrove regions prevent this effect.
This is likely due to soil building up around their mesh-like roots and acting to reduce energy from waves and tidal currents.
The ability of mangrove forest to gradually create a buffer between sea and land occurs even when the area is subjected to potential sea level rises of up to 0.5 mm per year.
Even after sea level rise, the mangroves showed an enhanced ability to maintain an elevation in the upper intertidal zone.
"In New Zealand, mangroves have been traditionally viewed as undesirable as they take over areas where there were once sandy beaches. In other countries, this is not the case as they are seen as a buffer for climate change in low level areas." said Karin Bryan, associate professor from the University of Waikato.
Mangroves also have the ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and protect people from hazards such as tsunami.
"These findings show that mangrove forests play a central role in estuarine and salt marsh environments," said Giovanni Coco, associate professor from the University of Auckland.
"As we anticipate changes caused by climate change, it's important to know the effect sea level rise might have, particularly around our coasts," said Coco.