- High-energy storms like Hurricane Irma, which recently struck the Florida coast, can damage ecosystems by rapidly delivering excessive rain, wind, and surges of water and materials. Such disturbance effects can have lasting consequences that can be difficult to anticipate because they interact with other short- and long-term changes occurring in nature, including prior events and chronic alterations driven by land- and water-use changes. Whether or not an ecosystem recovers rapidly, slowly or not at all from an extreme event may depend on exposure, resistance, and resilience to prior disturbances and chronic changes. This research will study the impacts of Hurricane Irma on carbon and nutrient cycles and animal populations, and how the impacts of such a severe disturbance are influenced by the legacies of previous storm events and long-term saltwater encroachment that predated the storm. New knowledge gained from this work on recovery trajectories will improve understanding of the longer-term impacts of storms like Irma on ecosystem services provided by coastal ecosystems; including storm buffering, carbon dioxide removal, biodiversity conservation and freshwater provisioning. The investigators will also use the information gained from this work to create K-12 classroom activities and media outreach programs that will enhance public understanding of the value of coastal environments, and the impacts of hurricanes.This study will use the context of the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) program to measure the impacts of storm surge, winds and rains from Hurricane Irma that passed over the Everglades on Sept 10, 2017. A field campaign will be conducted to measure the storm's impact on the distribution of nutrients, vegetation, soils and aquatic animals on the landscape. By examining impacts on areas that have had different histories of exposure to prior storms and chronic encroachment of saltwater that have been well-documented by the FCE LTER program, researchers will be able to determine how prior conditions influence the magnitude and duration of the storm's effects. By quantifying these impacts in the context of ongoing research, this study will also allow scientists to understand how the storm influenced the ability of the ecosystem to withstand future changes. A model that predicts how well coastal forests protect inland areas from storm surges will also be produced. Findings will be compared to other locations with long-term research programs impacted by tropical storms in 2017 and the results distributed through publications, multiple media outlets, and K-12 classroom activities.
- December 15, 2017 - November 30, 2019
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