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Project Work Plan

Department of Interior USGS GE PES
Fiscal Year 2014 Study Work Plan

Study Title: Sea Level Rise and Climate: Impacts on the Greater Everglades Ecosystem and Restoration
Current Study Start Date: 10/1/09 Current Study End Date: 9/30/2015
Location (Subregions, Counties, Park, or Refuge): Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Ten Thousand Islands NWR. Miami-Dade, Monroe, Collier, and Lee Counties, FL.
Funding Source: USGS GE PES
Funding History: FY10, FY11, FY12, FY13.
FY14 USGS Funding:
Principal Investigator: G. Lynn Wingard
Supporting Organizations: (Cooperative support) South Florida Water Management District; Everglades National Park; Biscayne National Park, Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, NOAA, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Overview & Objective(s):

Predictions of sea level rise of 18-59 cm by the year 2099 were presented in the IPCC Report of 2007, but these estimates excluded contributions from melting glacial ice. Recent estimates presented at the Copenhagen Climate Conference (March 2009) suggest sea level will rise a minimum of 50 cm and probably reach 100 cm or more. These estimates present a significant level of uncertainty for South Florida ecosystem restoration. Almost all of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem is less than 5 m above current sea level. A number of factors make South Florida particularly vulnerable to problems associated with rising sea level and global climate change: 1) low elevation; 2) lack of topographic gradient to promote drainage; 3) water table at or near the surface; 4) no upland source of sediment to resupply coast; 5) probability of increasing strength and number of tropical storms; 6) thermal expansion of the oceans (some models show the thermosteric anomalies being greater off the coast of Florida (Plag, 2006)); and 7) the fact that water management practices have reduced freshwater flow during the 20th century and thus increased the rate of encroachment of saline waters. Long term tidal gauge records show that Florida has been undergoing a 1.9 mm yr-1 increase in relative sea level between 1950-2000 (Miller and Douglas, 2006; Plag, 2006). The questions are how does this recent rate of relative sea level rise compare to pre-anthropogenic rates, has anthropogenic alteration of the South Florida environment increased the impact of rising sea level, and what are the projected future rates under various IPCC scenarios?

In an ecosystem based on the supply of freshwater, and a restoration plan based on "getting the water right," understanding potential impacts of sea level rise is critical. One of the primary questions that have surfaced in recent CERP team discussions about climate change and sea level rise is whether restoring more natural flows to the Everglades can restore the ecosystem's natural resiliency. While worrying about the long term effects of climate change and sea level rise, CERP project managers are faced with the immediate need to set restoration targets and performance measures. These targets and performance measures need to be attainable and sustainable, but how should attainable and sustainable be defined in the face of global change? Given the range in predictions and the level of uncertainty, what tools do managers have to incorporate sea level rise into restoration planning? The estuaries of the Greater Everglades provide the perfect living laboratory to study the long term impacts and implications of sea level rise on the ecosystem.

This project addresses the questions of rates and impacts of sea level rise on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by utilizing paleoecologic tools and salinity models to examine changes to the Greater Everglades Ecosystem over the past 500-3000 years. Historical rates of change will be compared to potential sea level rise conditions under different IPCC climate change scenarios. The relationship between sea level, salinity, habitats and biota will be examined, and ecologic indicators of sea level rise will be identified. The project also examines the role of storms in shaping the coastal geomorphology and ecology.

Scientific Objectives:

Management Objectives Addressed:

Specific Relevance to Major Unanswered Questions and Information Needs Identified:

The importance and application of studying the impacts of sea level rise on restoration of the South Florida ecosystem has been identified in a number of documents. The DOI Science Plan (p. 79) lists "understanding the effects of sea-level rise" as research that needs to be conducted "to assess the current and historic relationships between sea level, salinity, overland freshwater flows, tidal regimes, water budgets, and climate on mangrove and oligohaline communities." The plan further identifies an information gap in understanding the "response of coastal communities to simultaneous effects of increased freshwater flows and sea-level rise." The analysis of paleoecologic data proposed here, and the linkage to models that determine the relationships between freshwater stage and flow in the wetlands and salinity in the estuaries, provides the longer term historical perspective necessary to predict future effects of sea-level rise on the physical and biological components of the ecosystem and the interplay of restoration efforts and global changes. Further indication of the importance of this issue to the South Florida restoration effort is the Miami-Dade Climate Task Force and the four county Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change compact. The primary concern of these local coalitions is sea-level rise.

This project is directly related to the USGS Science Strategy (USGS Circ. 1309) and the science strategies for Ecosystems (USGS Circ. 1383-C) and Climate and Land Use (USGS Circ. 1383-A) Mission. We are investigating the causes and consequences of ecological change and the response of the biological components of the South Florida ecosystem to changes in sea level. A primary goal of the work is to provide policymakers with information on how the current and future rates of change will impact the natural and human resources of South Florida. The work also examines the relationship between biodiversity and migration of ecotones in response to sea level and climate changes and addresses the Climate and Land Use Change Science Strategy by examining these relationships over historically significant time periods. Using historical records, we can project future states under various IPCC scenarios and how those scenarios may affect restoration planning.

Planned Products for FY14:

  1. Wingard, G.L., and Lorenz, J. 2014, Integrated Conceptual Ecological Model and Habitat Indices for the Southwest Florida Coastal Wetlands. Ecological Indicators, sp. Issue edited by C. Kelble.
  2. Wachnicka H.A., Wingard G.L. (in review) Biological Indicators of Changes in Water Quality and Habitats of the Coastal and Estuarine Areas of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem In Entry J A, Gottlieb A D, Jayachandrahan K, Ogram A V (eds). Microbiology of the Everglades Ecosystem. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
  3. Wingard, G.L., in review, Southern Coastal Systems, CERP Systems Status Report FY2014: Appendix 3: Other Environmental Effects.
  4. Preliminary report and/or talk on initial findings from playa cores
  5. Core information updated in Ecosystem History Database
  6. Preliminary report(s) on individual findings from SW coastal cores
  7. Report to SCS on feasibility of new cores in SW coastal region

Work Plan

Task 1 Leaders: Lynn Wingard and Christopher Bernhardt
Phone: Wingard: 703-648-5352; Bernhardt: 703-648-6071
FAX: 703-648-6953
Task priority: 1
Task 1 Personnel: L. Wingard, C. Bernhardt, T. Cronin, M. Jones, M. Marot, B. Stackhouse, J. Murray, T. Sheehan, USGS. Anna Wachnicka, FIU, CESU contract; Terrence McCloskey, LSU, future USGS Mendenhall.

Task 1 Summary and Objective(s): Analysis of Playa Cores from Florida Bay

The goal of this task will be to collect and analyze 4 to 5 cores collected from playa lakes on islands in Florida Bay, within Everglades NP. The cores will be collected in April 2014. The purpose of these analyses is to examine potential records of sea level rise and storm history preserved in these harsh environments. We anticipate the cores will preserve very fine scale laminations (like lake cores) punctuated by storm deposition. In addition, we hope to gain insight into the geologic and ecologic history of these islands and examine the likelihood of the islands remaining emergent under rising sea level scenarios.

Work to be undertaken during the proposal year and a description of the methods and procedures:

This task has been on hold for several years, waiting for NPS approval to collect the cores, and in FY13 due to sequestration. In FY14, we collected and begin analyses on the cores. For each island we will collect 3-5 Russian cores to examine changes in the stratigraphy moving from the edge toward the center of the islands. These cores will be used for an analysis of carbon sequestration (both peat and blue carbon) potential of these habitats. The Russian cores will be used to determine the best location for two replicate piston cores. The first piston core (A cores) will be extruded and analyzed for micro fauna (mollusks, ostracodes, forams), diatoms, and pollen (for age modeling and correlation to the Russian cores). Carbon-14 and lead-210 dates will also be obtained on the A-cores, and loss-on-ignition and sediment grain size analyses will be conducted. The B cores will be split vertically, cleaned and photographed to examine the layering. XRD analysis will be conducted on the B cores, and then the B-cores will be archived for additional analyses in the future. These analyses will be very time consuming, and based on our visual observations of the Russian cores we will prioritize the sequence of analysis. It is anticipated that it will be more than a year to complete these analyses and produce a final report.

Specific Task 1 Products:


Delivery Date

1) Preliminary report and/or talk on initial findings

Fall 2014

2) Core information updated in Ecosystem History Database

Fall 2014

3) Individual / group papers on various aspects of core research


4) Summary paper or volume compiling results from all aspects of playa core research with conclusions about the sea level rise record, storm history, and biologic and geologic history of the island formation


Task 2 Leaders: Lynn Wingard and Christopher Bernhardt
Phone: Wingard: 703-648-5352; Bernhardt: 703-648-6071
FAX: 703-648-6953
Task priority: 2
Task 2 Personnel: L. Wingard, C. Bernhardt, B. Stackhouse, T. Sheehan, USGS. Anna Wachnicka, FIU - CESU contract.

Task 2 Summary and Objective(s): Re-examine SW coastal zone cores for storm history

Beginning in FY13, we have been re-examining cores collected along transects up the Shark, Harney and Lostmans Rivers on the SW coastal zone of Everglades NP. The cores were originally collected for salinity and sea level rise information, but early examination of the sediments and fauna indicated there was some disruption of the sediments. Our objective is to determine if these cores may contain a record of storm history and impacts along the SW coastal margin that would provide insight into future changes to the mangrove coast under various climate and sea level rise scenarios.

Work to be undertaken during the proposal year and a description of the methods and procedures:

Cores will be re-examined in light of the new interpretations. Molluscan faunal preservation will be assessed, and the faunal and floral assemblages will be examined for evidence of mixing. Sediment grain size analyses may be conducted on archived portions of the core to see if sediment changes correspond to faunal changes. This information will be correlated with age models and if possible to published records of storms affecting the SW coastal margin.

Specific Task Products:


Delivery Date

1) Preliminary report(s) on individual findings

Fall 2014

2) Journal article summarizing the results

Early 2015

Task 3 Leaders: Lynn Wingard
Phone: 703-648-5352
FAX: 703-648-6953
Task priority: 3
Task 3 Personnel: L. Wingard, C. Bernhardt, B. Stackhouse

Task 3 Summary and Objective(s): Determine desirability / feasibility of additional SW cores

As stated in task 2, SW cores were initially collected to determine changes in SL and freshwater supply (related to Salinity Targets project) along the southwest coastal margin of the Everglades. Given our recent determination that these cores cannot be used for the purpose we need to assess whether undisturbed coring locations can be found in the southwest coastal / Whitewater Bay region to be used for both Sea Level Rise and Salinity Targets projects, whether this is feasible with USGS and NPS goals, and whether it is still desired by the Southern Coastal Systems Team of RECOVER.

Work to be undertaken during the proposal year and a description of the methods and procedures:

Initial probing for new locations will be conducted during April 2014 fieldwork. Discussions will be held with SCS members about the desirability of pursuing new cores, if appropriate locations can be found. May initiate approval process with the Park if SCS is in favor of this.

Specific Task Products:


Delivery Date

1) Report to SCS on findings

Fall 2014

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