How good are wetlands at storm surge protection?

It has long been thought that coastal wetlands provide protection from hurricanes and storm surges. Perhaps surprisingly, there has been little effort so far to actually quantify these benefits or understand how the value of wetlands varies depending on storm intensity. Until now.

Using detailed geospatial data, we explore a comprehensive set of natural and human factors to examine the role of coastal wetlands in reducing tropical-cyclone–related property damage.


We show wetlands reduce property damage proportionately more at the lower end of the tropical cyclone classification scale, although the absolute magnitude of damage reduction is larger at the high end of the scale.

This in a recent PNAS paper by Fanglin Sun and Richard Carson of University of California San Diego. The findings are likely to influence future policy on protection and/or construction of wetlands in vulnerable coastal areas (although I was interested to learn that good building codes can significantly offset the need for wetlands or other coastal protection). The method seems quite complex, so I hope to see more studies and fresh estimates to corroborate this important work.