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December 21 2012

How Will the Wetlands Respond to Climate Change?

In a tidal marsh on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, dozens of transparent enclosures jut above the reeds and grasses, looking like high-tech pods seeded by an alien spacecraft. Barely audible over the buzz of insects, motors power whirring fans, bathing the plants inside the chambers with carbon dioxide gas.

To scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland, it’s the marsh of the future, a series of unusual experiments to simulate the effects of climate change and water pollution on a vital ecosystem. “What we’re doing out here is studying plant processes to predict the conditions of wetlands like this one—and tidal wetlands everywhere—in about 100 years,” Patrick Megonigal, a scientist at the center, says as he strides a boardwalk stretching into the 166-acre marsh.

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