Can Pacific Northwest Coastal Dunes be at Risk of Flooding due to Climate Change?

Beach grass communities in the Pacific Northwest are known to create sand dunes that help mitigate the risks of coastal erosion and flooding caused by rising sea levels due to climate change. Tarik Gouhier, a recently appointed assistant professor in the region, emphasizes the importance of these dunes in protecting the coastline against the damaging effects of climate change.

Much of the terrain of Oregon’s sandy shoreline we see today has been shaped by two dominant, invasive beachgrass species.  They build tall, stable dunes that parallel sandy beaches, providing some protection for infrastructure but causing the decline of native animal and plant species.  A team from Oregon State University recently discovered a hybrid beachgrass formed between these two invasive and closely related beachgrass species.  The extent of the spread of this hybrid, and how it may affect the coastal landscape, is not yet known.  A citizen science survey has been launched to map the hybrid, which CoastWatch is helping to organize.

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