, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 763-775
Date: 01 Nov 2013

Ecological Responses of a Large Shallow Lake (Okeechobee, Florida) to Climate Change and Potential Future Hydrologic Regimes

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Abstract

We considered how Lake Okeechobee, a large shallow lake in Florida, USA, might respond to altered hydrology associated with climate change scenarios in 2060. Water budgets and stage hydrographs were provided from the South Florida Water Management Model, a regional hydrologic model used to develop plans for Everglades restoration. Future scenarios include a 10 % increase or decrease in rainfall (RF) and a calculated increase in evapotranspiration (ET), which is based on a 1.5 °C rise in temperature. Increasing RF and ET had counter-balancing effects on the water budget and when changing concurrently did not affect hydrology. In contrast, when RF decreased while ET increased, this resulted in a large change in hydrology. The surface elevation of the lake dropped by more than 2 m under this scenario compared to a future base condition, and extreme low elevation persisted for multiple years. In this declining RF/increasing ET scenario, the littoral and near-shore zones, areas that support emergent and submerged plants, were dry 55 % of the time compared to less than 4 % of the time in the future base run. There also were times when elevation increased as much as 3 m after intense RF events. Overall, these changes in hydrologic conditions would dramatically alter ecosystem services. Uncertainty about responses is highest at the pelagic–littoral interface, in regard to whether an extremely shallow lake could support submerged vascular plants, which are critical to the recreational fishery and for migratory birds. Along with improved regional climate modeling, research in that interface zone is needed to guide the adaptive process of Everglades restoration.