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How will sea-level rise affect the Everglades coastline?

MIAMI, FL — Dr. Stephen Davis and colleagues from Florida International University (FIU), South Florida Water Management District, and Everglades National Park seek to answer this pressing question.  Their approach will draw upon existing information and Everglades monitoring to develop a set of controlled experiments to investigate the effects of sea level rise on mangrove forest stability.  The focus of their initial effort is on the soil, as it is the soil that provides the platform on which these forests can be sustained.  Ultimately, they hope to understand how mangrove trees, soils and the soil microbial communities interactively respond to increasing inundation (the rising of a body of water and its overflowing onto normally dry land) and saltwater intrusion brought about by sea level rise.  “This will provide us with more resolution on the vulnerability of our mangrove coastline and the benefits of restoring flows to the greater Everglades ecosystem,” Davis noted.

The first set of experiments was conducted in the summer of 2011 and was led by Dr. Davis and Dr. Tiffany Troxler from FIU.  Through support of the Everglades Foundation, they were able to fund Dr. Lisa Gardner Chambers, then a PhD student from the University of Florida, to participate in the study as part of her dissertation research.  Contributions from Drs. Joe Boyer and Len Scinto from the Southeast Environmental Research Center at FIU, Dr. Fred Sklar and staff at the South Florida Water Management District, and Everglades National Park made the experiment possible.  “The experiment was a huge success, but it was only possible through the effort, expertise, and technical tools that all these individuals brought to bear,” said Dr. Davis.  “It really indicates that there is a growing need for answers to these challenging questions in south Florida and that we should try to tackle them collaboratively.”

Future experiments will begin as part of the next phase of the National Science Foundation-funded Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program based at FIU with additional support from Drs. Evelyn Gaiser (LTER Lead investigator) and John Kominoski.  Davis anticipates another mangrove soil experiment in the summer of 2013 to be followed by longer-term experiments using live mangrove plants in conjunction with field manipulations.  He and his colleagues from FIU and the South Florida Water Management District are trying to secure funds from various agencies to sustain this research.

 

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Photo showing red mangroves growing in a tank at the Florida Bay Interagency Science Center, Everglades National Park. The mesocosm facility was constructed by the South Florida Water Management District in the late 1990’s to conduct experimental research on submerged aquatic vegetation. However, Davis and his colleagues have recently adapted this facility for sea level rise experiments.

 

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Dr. Tiffany Troxler and Mr. Alan Downey-Wall (FIU) use an infrared gas analyzer and chamber to take gas flux readings from a mangrove soil. These data will help scientists understand how sea level rise will affect mangrove soil stability in south Florida.

 

Related links:

http://fcelter.fiu.edu

http://www.nps.gov/ever/naturescience/sfnrc.htm

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