NSF awards $4.2 Million grants to three coastal sites for long-term ecological research

May 15, 2000

Estuaries and coastal landscapes; barrier islands and marshes; giant kelp forests. They're the subject of three new Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites recently awarded funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF). With the addition of the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER site, the Georgia Coastal Ecosystem LTER site, and the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site, there are now 24 NSF-funded LTER sites in North America and Antarctica. The three newest sites each will receive approximately $700,000 per year for the next six years, for a total of about $4.2 million each.

Florida Coastal Everglades LTER

Research at the Florida Coastal Everglades site will look at how cultural eutrophication -- nutrient enrichment of an ecosystem by human influences -- has affected Everglades National Park. "Estuaries and coastal landscapes experience a range of stresses, both natural and man-induced," explains Scott Collins, director of NSF's LTER program. "Among these, cultural eutrophication affects most U.S. coastal ecosystems." In the new Florida Coastal Everglades LTER site, scientists will investigate how variability in regional climate, freshwater inputs, and disturbances affect this ecosystem. The Everglades is the focus of the largest watershed restoration effort ever implemented, says Collins, and this restoration will dramatically change the timing and amount of freshwater entering the system.

Georgia Coastal Ecosystem LTER

This study site, a barrier island and marsh complex, is located on the central Georgia coast near Sapelo Island and the Altamaha River, one of the largest and least developed rivers on the U.S. East Coast. Scientists at this LTER site will investigate the links between local and distant upland areas, and how water flow from inland rivers to the coastal zone affects these areas. The study area includes the Altamaha River estuary, the lagoonal estuaries bordering the mainland and Sapelo Island, and tidal marshes throughout the coastal area. Says Phil Taylor, director of NSF's biological oceanography program, which co-funded the three new coastal LTER sites, "The impacts of human activities are an important component of the long-term variation researchers will likely find at this site." The coastline of Georgia is currently among the least developed in the U.S., but is expected to develop rapidly over the next few decades, "making this an ideal time," says Taylor, "to get a better idea of how this ecosystem works."

Santa Barbara Coastal LTER

Research at the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site will focus on giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) forests, which are important to the ecology and economy of coastal areas on the west coasts of North and South America. Kelp forests occur on shallow coastal reefs, and are affected in both positive and negative ways by land and the open ocean, through water carrying sediment, nutrients, and pollutants. The effects of terrestrial runoff, in particular, on kelp forests in the Santa Barbara Channel can be large, according to scientists affiliated with this LTER site. They will work to determine patterns of runoff entering the channel, in an effort to find out how runoff affects the long-term population dynamics of key kelp-forest species, and the ultimate survival of the kelp forest itself.
Program contact:Scott Collins

National Science Foundation

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