07/28/2011 04:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rising Seas Bring Salty Risks

The waves come in, the waves go out.  Sailors, fishermen and poets have depended on this rhythm to travel the world, get food and bemoan the ephemeral nature of a single human life.  But as sea levels rise, the waves come in and stay.  Saltwater intrusion is a big problem in marshlands, which are extremely sensitive ecological systems that depend on the saltwater coming in and the freshwater flushing it out. When freshwater doesn't flush out the seawater, it changes the chemistry of the environment and endangers the critters that live there. 

Villanova University marine scientist Nathaniel Weston is studying this problem to see how both land use and climate change can impact habitat in tidal marshes.  He's discovering that rising sea levels can actually cause marshes to grow in very different ways, a problem that is very real to people around the world who depend on those marshlands for food.

One of those communities is in Nam Dimh Vietnam, where Planet Forward producer, Victoria Riess, went recently to see how they were adapting to climate change.  A rice farming community, the women in Nam Dimh are seeing more and more saltwater intrusion into the rice fields they maintain.  One solution comes from a traditional technique: to mix limestone with the soil to extract the salt.

We heard from Dr. Weston about his work and asked him his thoughts on this traditional technique.  See what he has to say:

While mixing limestone may help to extract the sodium ion from the soil, the only real solution to the problem is to flush their field with freshwater.  Unfortunately, those freshwater supplies are being endangered by the same problem.  The environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council, released a report this week that identifies the coastal cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami as cities whose aquifers are being contaminated by seawater.

What steps should communities be taking to hold the salt and save iconic natural landscapes like the Everglades and the Chesapeake Bay?  Let us know at Planet Forward!