FCE LTER Journal Articles


Correspondence of historic salinity fluctuations in Florida Bay, USA, to atmospheric variability and anthropogenic changes


Florida Bay is a highly dynamic estuary that exhibits wide natural fluctuations in salinity due to changes in the balance of precipitation, evaporation and freshwater runoff from the mainland. Rapid and large-scale modification of freshwater flow and construction of transportation conduits throughout the Florida Keys during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries reshaped water circulation and salinity patterns across the ecosystem. In order to determine long-term patterns in salinity variation across the Florida Bay estuary, we used a diatom-based salinity transfer function to infer salinity within 3.27 ppt root mean square error of prediction from diatom assemblages from four ~130 year old sediment records. Sites were distributed along a gradient of exposure to anthropogenic shifts in the watershed and salinity. Precipitation was found to be the primary driver influencing salinity fluctuations over the entire record, but watershed modifications on the mainland and in the Florida Keys during the late-1800s and 1900s were the most likely cause of significant shifts in baseline salinity. The timing of these shifts in the salinity baseline varies across the Bay: that of the northeastern coring location coincides with the construction of the Florida Overseas Railway (AD 1906–1916), while that of the east-central coring location coincides with the drainage of Lake Okeechobee (AD 1881–1894). Subsequent decreases occurring after the 1960s (east-central region) and early 1980s (southwestern region) correspond to increases in freshwater delivered through water control structures in the 1950s–1970s and again in the 1980s. Concomitant increases in salinity in the northeastern and south-central regions of the Bay in the mid-1960s correspond to an extensive drought period and the occurrence of three major hurricanes, while the drop in the early 1970s could not be related to any natural event. This paper provides information about major factors influencing salinity conditions in Florida Bay in the past and quantitative estimates of the pre- and post-South Florida watershed modification salinity levels in different regions of the Bay. This information should be useful for environmental managers in setting restoration goals for the marine ecosystems in South Florida, especially for Florida Bay.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DBI-0620409 and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

This document is currently not available here.