Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 103–115 | Cite as

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

  • Anna Wachnicka
  • Evelyn Gaiser
  • Laurel S. Collins
Original Paper


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.


Paleoenvironment Salinity Diatoms Florida Bay 


  1. Alvarez Zarikian CA, Swart PK, Hood T, Blackwelder PL, Nelsen TA, Featherstone C (2001) A century of variability in Oyster Bay using ostracodes, ecological and isotopic data as paleoenvironmental tools. In: Wardlaw BR (ed) Paleoecological studies of South Florida. Bull Am Paleontol 361:133–143Google Scholar
  2. Battarbee RW (1986) Diatom analysis. In: Berglund BE (ed) Handbook of holocene palaeoecology and palaeohydrology. The Blackburn Press, Caldwell, pp 527–570Google Scholar
  3. Birks HJB, Line JM, Juggins S, Stevenson AC, Ter Braak CJF (1990) Diatoms and pH reconstruction. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 327:263–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blood E, Smith PA (1996) Water quality in high-salinity estuaries: effects of watershed alteration. In: Vernberg FJ, Vernberg WB, Siewicki T (eds) Sustainable development in the southeastern coastal zone. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, pp 413–444Google Scholar
  5. Boyer JN, Fourqurean JW, Jones RD (1999) Seasonal and long-term trends in water quality of Florida Bay (1989–1997). Estuaries 22:417–430CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brewster-Wingard GL, Ishman SE (1999) Historical trends in salinity and substrate in central and northern Florida Bay: a paleoecological reconstruction using modern analogue data. Estuaries 22:369–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brewster-Wingard GL, Stone JR, Holmes CW (2001) Molluscan fauna distribution in Florida Bay, past and present: an integration of down-core and modern data. Bull Am Paleontol 361:199–231Google Scholar
  8. Briceño HO, Boyer JN (2010) Climatic controls on phytoplankton biomass in a sub-tropical estuary, Florida Bay, USA. Estuar Coasts 33(2):541–553CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheng J (2009) Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of Florida Bay, South Florida, using benthic foraminifera. PhD dissertation, Florida International University, Florida, USAGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper S, Gaiser E, Wachnicka A (2010) Estuarine paleoenvironmental reconstructions using diatoms. In: Smol JP, Stoermer EF (eds) The diatoms: applications for the environmental and Earth sciences, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 324–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cronin TM, Holmes CW, Brewster-Wingard GL, Ishman SE, Dowsett HJ, Keyser D, Waibel N (2001) Historical trends in epiphytal ostracodes from Florida Bay: implication for seagrss and macro-benthic algal variability. In: Wardlaw BR (ed) Paleoecological studies of South Florida. Bull Am Paleontol 361:159–198Google Scholar
  12. Cuff DJ, Goudie AS (2009) The Oxford companion to global change. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. ESRL (2011) Earth System Laboratory, Physical Science Division database.
  14. Evans SL (2009) Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopic patterns in South Florida coastal ecosystems: modern and paleoceanographic perspectives. PhD dissertation, Florida International University.
  15. Flower RJ, Ryves DB (2009) Diatom preservation: differential preservation of sedimentary diatoms in two saline lakes. Acta Bot Croat 68(2):381–399Google Scholar
  16. Flynn WW (1968) The determination of low levels of polonium210 in environmental materials. Anal Chim Acta 43:221–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frankovich TA, Gaiser E, Zieman JC, Wachnicka AH (2006) Spatial and temporal distributions of epiphytic diatoms growing on Thalassia testudinum Banks ex König: Relationships to water quality. Hydrobiologia 569:259–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fritz SC, Juggins S, Battarbee RW, Engstrom DR (1991) Reconstruction of past changes in salinity and climate using a diatom-based transfer function. Nature 352:706–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gilbert J, Vellinga P (1990) Strategies for adaption to sea level rise. Report of the coastal zone management subgroup, intergovernmental panel on climate change, world meteorological organization and UN environmental programme, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  20. Halley RB, Roulier LM (1999) Reconstructing the history of eastern and central Florida Bay using mollusk-shell isotope records. Estuaries 22:358–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hassan GS, Espinosa MA, Isla FI (2009) Diatom-based inference model for pale-osalinity reconstructions in estuaries along the northeastern coast of Argentina. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 275:77–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holmes CW, Robbins J, Halley R, Bothner M, Brink MT, Marot M (2001) Sediment dynamics of Florida Bay mud banks on a decadal time scale. In: Wardlaw BR (ed) Paleoecological Studies of South Florida. Bull Am Paleontol 361:31–40Google Scholar
  23. Huvane JK, Cooper SR (2001) Diatoms as indicators of environmental change in sediment cores from Northeastern Florida Bay. Bull Am Paleontol 361:145–158Google Scholar
  24. Juggins S (1992) Diatoms in the Thames Estuary, England: ecology, paleoecology, and salinity transfer function. J. Cramer, Berlin-StuttgardGoogle Scholar
  25. Kelble CR, Johns EM, Nuttle WK, Lee TN, Smith RY, Ortner PB (2007) Salinity patterns of Florida Bay. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 71:318–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lee TN, Johns E, Melo N, Smith RH, Ortner PB, Smith D (2006) On Florida Bay hypersalinity and water exchange. Bull Mar Sci 79:301–327Google Scholar
  27. Lee TN, Melo N, Johns E, Kelble C, Smith R, Ortner P (2008) On water renewal and salinity variability in the northeast subregion of Florida Bay. Bull Mar Sci 82:83–105Google Scholar
  28. Light SS, Dineen JW (1994) Water control in the Everglades: a historical perspective. In: Davis SM, Ogden JC (eds) Everglades: the ecosystem and its restoration. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, pp 47–84Google Scholar
  29. Marshall FE III, Wingard GL, Pitts P (2009) A simulation of historic hydrology and salinity in Everglades National Park: coupling paleoecological assemblage data with regression models. Estuar Coasts 32:37–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McCune B, Grace JB (2002) Analysis of ecological communities. MJM Software Design, Gleneden BeachGoogle Scholar
  31. Nuttle WK, Fourqurean JW, Cosby BJ, Zieman JC, Robblee MB (2000) The influence of net freshwater supply on salinity in Florida Bay. Water Resour Res 36:1805–1822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pyle L, Cooper SR, Huvane JK (1998) Diatom paleoecology Pass Key core 37, Everglades National Park, Florida Bay. Open-file report 98-522, 38 ppGoogle Scholar
  33. Robbins JS, Holmes CW, Halley R, Bothner M, Shinn E, Graney J, Keeler G, ten Brink M, Orlandini KA, Rudnick D (2000) Time-averaged fluxes of lead and fallout radionuclides to sediment of Florida Bay. J Geophys Res 105:28805–28822CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ross MS, Gaiser EE, Meeder JF, Lewin MT (2001) Multi-taxon analysis of the “white zone”, a common ecotonal feature of South Florida coastal wetlands. In: Porter J, Porter K (eds) The Everglades, Florida Bay, and Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 205–238Google Scholar
  35. Rudnick DT, Ortner PB, Browder JA, Davis SM (2005) Florida Bay conceptual ecological model. Wetlands 25(4):870–883Google Scholar
  36. Sansone FJ, Hollibaugh JT, Vink SM, Chambers RM, Joye SB, Popp BN (1994) Diver-operated piston corer for nearshore use. Estuaries 17:716–720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Saunders KM (2010) A diatom dataset and diatom-salinity inference model for southeast Australian estuaries and coastal lakes. J Paleolimnol. doi:10.1007/s10933-010-9456-y
  38. Saunders KM, Mcminn A, Roberts D, Hodgson DA, Heijnis H (2007) Recent human-induced salinity changes in Ramsar-listed Orielton Lagoon, south-east Tasmania, Australia: a new approach for coastal lagoon conservation and management. Aquat Conserv Mar Freshwat Ecosyst 17:51–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. SFWMD (2011) South Florida Water Management District Environmental database.
  40. Sklar F, Mcvoy C, Vanzee R, Gawlik DE, Tarboton K, Rudnick D, Miao S, Armentano T (2002) The effects of altered hydrology on the ecology of the Everglades. In: Porter JW, KG Porter (eds) The Everglades, Florida Bay, and Coral Reefs of the Florida Keys. An ecosystem sourcebook. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 39–82Google Scholar
  41. Swart PK, Price RM (2002) Origin of salinity variations in Florida Bay. Limnol Oceanogr 47:1234–1241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Swart PK, Healy G, Dodge RE, Kramer P, Hudson JH, Halley RB, Robblee MB (1996) The stable oxygen and carbon isotopic record from a coral growing in Florida Bay: a 160 year record of climatic and anthropogenic influence. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 123:219–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Swart PK, Healy G, Greer L, Lutz M, Saied A, Anderegg D, Dodge RE, Rudnick D (1999) The use of proxy chemical records in coral skeletons to ascertain past environmental conditions in Florida Bay. Estuaries 22:384–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tilmant T (1989) A history and an overview of recent trends in the fisheries of Florida Bay. Bull Mar Sci 44:3–22Google Scholar
  45. Valiela I (2006) Global coastal change. Blackwell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  46. Valiela I, Kinney E, Culbertson J, Peacock E, Smith S (2009) Global losses of mangroves and saltmarshes. In: Duarte CM (ed) Global loss of coastal habitats: rates, causes and consequences. Fundación BBVA, Bilbao, pp 107–138Google Scholar
  47. Wachnicka A (2009) Quantitative diatom-based reconstruction of paleoenvironmental conditions in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay, USA. PhD dissertation, Florida International University, Miami.
  48. Wachnicka A, Gaiser E, Collins L, Frankovich T, Boyer J (2010) Distribution of diatoms and development of diatom-based models for inferring salinity and nutrient concentrations in Florida Bay and adjacent coastal wetlands (USA). Estuar Coasts 33(5):1080–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wachnicka A, Gaiser E, Boyer J (2011) Autecology and distribution of diatoms in Biscayne Bay, Florida: implications for bioassessment and paleoenvironmental studies. Ecol Indic 11(2):622–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Xu Y, Jaffe R, Wachnicka A, Gaiser E (2006) Occurrence of C25 highly branched isoprenoids (HBIs) in Florida Bay: paleoenvironmental indicators of diatom-derived organic matter inputs. Org Geochem 37:847–859CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Xu Y, Holmes CW, Jaffe R (2007) Paleoenvironmental assessment of recent environmental changes in Florida Bay, USA: a biomarker based study. Estuar Coastal Shelf Sci 73:201–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zong Y, Kemp AC, Yu F, Lloyd JM, Huang G, Yim WWS (2010) Diatoms from the Pearl River estuary, China and their suitability as water salinity indicators for coastal environments. Mar Micropaleontol 75(1–4):38–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Wachnicka
    • 1
    • 2
  • Evelyn Gaiser
    • 2
    • 3
  • Laurel S. Collins
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Earth and EnvironmentFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Southeast Environmental Research CenterFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations