Area 1: External Drivers of Change

Objectives Progress Report Publications Show All  

External Drivers of Change

Our goal for this area is to characterize external drivers such as climate change, sea-level rise, and human alterations of the landscape in terms of long-term trends, spatio-temporal variability, and occurrence of extreme events (e.g., storms, droughts) so that we can investigate the links between external drivers and ecosystem response. This includes collecting ongoing information on climate and oceanographic conditions, sea level, and river discharge (Fig 1).

Research Objectives

A) Environmental Drivers

  • 1A.1 - Collect ongoing information on climate and oceanographic conditions, sea level, and river discharge
  • 1A.2 - Maintain eddy covariance tower in Duplin River
  • 1A.3 - Monitor Altamaha River water entering the GCE domain
  • 1A.4 - Conduct dendrochronology analysis

B) Human Drivers

  • 1B.1 - Assess Native American oyster harvesting practices
  • 1B.2 - Evaluate how human activity relates to marsh inundation patterns
  • 1B.3 - Track shoreline armoring

Current Progress Report

Below is an update for each of the Area 1 objectives as reported in the most recent annual report. For a list of all reports click here (Annual Reports).

A) Environmental Drivers

  • 1A.1 - Collect ongoing information on climate and oceanographic conditions, sea level, and river discharge

      Activities:  Several meteorological stations are used to characterize the GCE domain (Fig. 1) and we operate climate stations at Marsh Landing and the flux tower. We also track sea level, offshore wind forcing, and river discharge. We have a Campbell Water Level Sensor ready to deploy to ensure that our long-term tide gage data are not disrupted by upcoming dock renovations.

      Significant Results:  The NOAA Fort Pulaski sea level gage shows an increase in relative sea level of 3.37 mm/yr for the period of 1936-2020, and a much greater increase of 8 mm/yr since the onset of the GCE project in 2000. The number of flooding events that exceed 1.7 m in sea level height relative to mean sea level also shows an increasing trend, with more than 30 events per year in 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2020 (Fig. 2).

Area 1 Figure 1

Fig1. Locations of observing stations used for boundary conditions (ML is Marsh Landing; UGAMI is UGA Marine Institute).


Area 1 Figure 2

Fig. 2. Trends in sea surface height and flooding events on the Georgia coast based on data from the NOAA Fort Pulaski sea level gage. There has been an increase in monthly anomalous sea level height of 3.37 mm/yr for the period of 1936-2020 (top); and a much greater increase of 8 mm/yr since the onset of the GCE project in 2000 (middle). The number of flooding events that exceed 1.7 m relative to mean sea level also shows an increasing trend, with more than 30 events per year in 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2020 (bottom). Source: D. Di Iorio.

  • 1A.2 - Maintain eddy covariance tower in Duplin River

      Activities:  The GCE flux tower on the Duplin River measures CO2/H2O, weather conditions, radiation, water levels, and soil temperature. Maintenance is conducted on a regular basis including replacement of thermocouples, sensor cleaning and calibration.

      Significant Results:  We have developed a workflow to process raw 10Hz eddy covariance data to 30-min net ecosystem exchange (NEE). Nahrawi et al. (2020) evaluated data from 2014-15 and demonstrated that NEE responds to both seasonal and tidal variation (Fig. 3).

Area1 Figure 3

Fig. 3. Diurnal patterns in monthly average NEE estimated from the GCE flux tower during 2015. Blue and orange lines represent spring and neap tides, respectively. Source: Nahwari et al. 2020.

  • 1A.3 - Monitor Altamaha River water entering the GCE domain

      Activities:  We routinely collect monthly samples of water entering the GCE domain via the Altamaha River for analysis of nutrients, DIC, alkalinity and pH. We have experienced COVID-related delays in sample processing.

      Significant Results:  Letourneau et al. (2021) completed an analysis of DOM composition of water entering the GCE domain (see Accomplishments). Note that the monthly median discharge of the Altamaha River exceeded 2000 m3 s-1 in 2020, which is the highest ever recorded since the start of the GCE project.

  • 1A.4 - Conduct dendrochronology analysis

      Activities:  Napora (2021) completed an analysis of bald cypress tree ring data from the last 5,117 years (Fig. 4). This is now the longest dendrochronological record east of the Mississippi River.

      Significant Results:  Variation in bald cypress tree growth shows periods of drought and provides insight into long-term fluctuations in climate (Napora et al. 2019; Napora 2021).

Area1 Figure 4

Fig. 4. Dendochronology from bald cypress tree cookies collected at the mouth of the Altamaha River, showing changes in annual tree rings over 5177 years (left axis) along with the number of radii available for each year (right axis). Source: Napora 2021.

B) Human Drivers

  • 1B.1 - Assess Native American oyster harvesting practices

      Activities:  Oyster shells from three archaeological sites in the GCE domain are being processed for 18O.

      Significant Results:  18O data indicate sea level shifts and salinity variability during periods that coincide with the abandonment of sites by Native American communities.

  • 1B.2 - Evaluate how human activity relates to marsh inundation patterns

      Activities:  We have deployed data loggers in drainage ditches to evaluate salt water incursion into populated areas of Sapelo Island. We also continue to examine how property ownership and development interface with flooding patterns. A new ROA supplement will extend our ethnographic research to incorporate information on traditional ecological knowledge of coastal resources.

      Significant Results:  We are examining long-term changes in land use and the combined ramifications of climate change and land loss in the Saltwater Geechee community (Hardy and Heynen 2020; Hardy et al. in press).

  • 1B.3 - Track shoreline armoring

      Activities:  Our last periodic assessment was completed in 2018, with the next one targeted for 2024.

      Significant Results: We are participating in an oyster conservation project that is evaluating the potential to use discarded shells for living shorelines and other green infrastructure on the Georgia coast.

Area 1 Publications from GCE-IV

Hardy, D. and Heynen, N. 2021. "I am Sapelo": Racialized Uneven Development and Land Politics within the Gullah/Geechee Corridor. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. (DOI: 10.1177/2514848620987366) (in press)

Ritchison, B.T., Thompson, V.D., Lulewicz, I.H., Tucker, B. and Turck, J.A. 2021. Climate Change, Resilience, and the Fisher-Hunter-Gatherers of Late Holocene Georgia Coast. Quaternary International. (DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2020.08.030)

Burns, C., Alber, M. and Alexander, C.R. Jr. 2020. Historical Changes in the Vegetated Area of Salt Marshes. Estuaries and Coasts. (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00781-6)

Crotty, S.M., Ortals, C., Pettengill, T.M., Shi, L., Olabarrieta, M., Joyce, M.A., Altieri, A.H., Morrison, E., Bianchi, T.S., Craft, C.B., Bertness, M.D. and Angelini, C. 2020. Sea-level rise and the emergence of a keystone grazer alter the geomorphic evolution and ecology of southeast US salt marshes. PNAS. 117:17891-17902. (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1917869117)

Heynen, N. 2020. A plantation can be a commons: Re-Earthing Sapelo Island through Abolition Ecology. Antipode. 0(0):20. (DOI: 10.1111/anti.12631)

Thompson, V.D., Rick, T., Garland, C.J., Thomas, D.H., Smith, K.Y., Bergh, S., Sanger, M., Tucker, B., Lulewicz, I.H., Semon, A.M., Schalles, J.F., Hladik, C.M., Alexander, C.R. Jr. and Ritchison, B.T. 2020. Ecosystem stability and Native American oyster harvesting along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. Science Advances. 6. (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba9652)

Letourneau, M.L. and Medeiros, P.M. 2019. Dissolved organic matter composition in a marsh-dominated estuary: Response to seasonal forcing and to the passage of a hurricane. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. 124:1545-1559. (DOI: 10.1029/2018JG004982)

Napora, K., Cherkinsky, A., Speakman, R.J., Thompson, V.D., Horan, R. and Jacobs, C. 2019. Radiocarbon Pretreatment Comparisons of Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) Wood Samples from a Massive Buried Deposit on the Georgia Coast, USA. Radiocarbon. 61:1755-1763.

Turck, J.A. and Thompson, V.D. 2019. Human-Environmental Dynamics of the Georgia Coast. In: Reeder-Myers, L., Turck, J. and Rick, T. (editors). The Archaeology of Human-Environmental Dynamics on the North American Atlantic Coast. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, GL.

Napora, K. 2021. Refining cultural and environmental temporalities at the late Archaic-early woodland transition along the Georgia coast, UGA. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Georgia.

Bailey, M. and Heynen, N. 2020. Sweet (and sticky) redemption. In: Scalawag Magazine.

Area 1 Publications from GCE-III

Journal Articles

Narron, C., O'Connell, J.L., Mishra, D., Cotten, D.L., Hawman, P. and Mao, L. 2022. Flooding in Landsat across tidal systems (FLATS): An index for intermittent tidal filtering and frequency detection in salt marsh environments. Ecological Indicators. 141:109045. (DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2022.109045)

Nahrawi, H.B., Leclerc, M.Y., Pennings, S.C., Zhang, G., Singh, N. and Pahari, R. 2020. Impact of tidal inundation on the net ecosystem exchange in daytime conditions in a salt marsh. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 294:108133. (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2020.108133)

Dugan, J., Emery, K., Alber, M., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Byers, J., Gehman, A., McLenaghan, N.A. and Sojka, S. 2018. Generalizing Ecological Effects of Shoreline Armoring Across Soft Sediment Environments. Estuaries and Coasts. 41(1):180-196. (DOI: 10.1007/s12237-017-0254-x)

Gehman, A., McLenaghan, N.A., Byers, J., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Pennings, S.C. and Alber, M. 2018. Effects of small-scale armoring and residential development on the salt marsh-upland ecotone. Estuaries and Coasts. 41(1):54-67. (DOI: 10.1007/s12237-017-0300-8)

O'Connell, J. and Alber, M. 2016. A smart classifier for extracting environmental data from digital image time-series: Applications for PhenoCam data in a tidal salt marsh. Environmental Modelling & Software. 84:134-139. (DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2016.06.025)

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2006. The calculation of estuarine turnover times using freshwater fraction and tidal prism models: a critical evaluation. Estuaries and Coasts. 29(1):133-146.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2002. A comparison of residence time calculations using simple compartment models of the Altamaha River estuary, Georgia. Estuaries. 25(6B):1304-1317.

Conference Papers (Peer Reviewed)

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2005. Comparing Transport Times Through Salinity Zones in the Ogeechee and Altamaha River Estuaries Using SqueezeBox. In: Hatcher, K.J. (editor). Proceedings of the 2005 Georgia Water Resources Conference. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2003. Simulating material movement through the lower Altamaha River Estuary using a 1-D box model. Hatcher, K.J. (editor). Proceedings of the 2003 Georgia Water Resources Conference. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Blanton, J.O., Alber, M. and Sheldon, J.E. 2001. Salinity response of the Satilla River Estuary to seasonal changes in freshwater discharge. Pages 619-622 in: Hatcher, K.J. (editor). Proceedings of the 2001 Georgia Water Resources Conference. Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

Conference Posters and Presentations

Dugan, J., Alber, M., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Byers, J., Emery, K., Gehman, A., Lawson, S. and McLenaghan, N.A. 2015. Poster: A conceptual model for predicting the ecological effects of coastal armoring in soft-sediment environments. Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation Biennial Meeting, August 30 - September 2, 2015, Estes Park, CO.

Dugan, J., Alber, M., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Byers, J., Emery, K., Gehman, A., Lawson, S. and McLenaghan, N.A. 2015. Poster: A conceptual model for predicting the ecological effects of coastal armoring in soft-sediment environments. Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation Biennial Meeting, November 8-12, 2015, Portland, OR.

Gehman, A., McLenaghan, N.A., Byers, J., Alexander, C.R. Jr., Pennings, S.C. and Alber, M. 2015. Poster: Effects of development and shoreline armoring on the high marsh ecosystem. Benthic Society Ecology Meeting 2015, March 4-7, 2015, Quebec City, CN.

Sheldon, J.E. and Burd, A.B. 2009. Presentation: An In-depth Look at Alternating Effects of Climate Signals on Freshwater Delivery to Coastal Georgia, U.S.A. Hydrologic Prediction in Estuaries and Coastal Ecosystems. CERF 2009: Estuaries and Coasts in a Changing World, November 1-5, 2009, Portland, OR.

Sheldon, J.E. and Burd, A.B. 2007. Poster: Detecting climate signals in river discharge and precipitation data for the central Georgia coast. 2007 AERS/SEERS Meeting, March 15-17, 2007, Pine Knoll Shores, NC.

Alber, M. and Sheldon, J.E. 2006. Calculating estuary turnover times during non-steady-state conditions using freshwater fraction techniques. Southeastern Estuarine Research Society meeting, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Alber, M. and Sheldon, J.E. 2006. Presentation: Simple tools for assessing coastal systems: can we get there from here? Coastal Observing Systems Workshop, LTER All Scientists Meeting, September 20-24, 2006, Estes Park Colorado.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2005. Poster: New and improved: Modeling mixing time scales in the Altamaha River estuary. GCE-LTER 2005 Annual Meeting. GCE-LTER, Feb. 11-12, 2005, Athens, Georgia.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2005. Presentation: Beyond whole-estuary flushing times: Using transport times through salinity zones to explain chlorophyll patterns in the Altamaha River estuary (Georgia, USA). Estuarine Interactions: biological-physical feedbacks and adaptations. 2005 Estuarine Research Federation Meeting. October 16-20, 2005, Norfolk, Virginia.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2004. Presentation: SqueezeBox: Flow-scaled 1-D box models for estuary residence time estimates. NOS Workshop on Residence/Flushing Times in Bays and Estuaries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, June 8-9, 2004, Silver Spring, Maryland.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2004. Presentation: SqueezeBox: Flow-scaled 1-D box models for estuary residence time estimates. Spring 2004 meeting. Southeastern Estuarine Research Society (SEERS), October 14-16, 2004, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2003. Poster: Modeling mixing time scales and transport of dissolved substances in the Altamaha River estuary. 2003 LTER All Scientist's Meeting, "Embarking on a Decade of Synthesis". LTER, Sept. 18-21, 2003, Seattle, Washington.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2003. Presentation: The equivalence of estuarine turnover times calculated using fraction of freshwater and tidal prism models. 2003 Estuarine Research Federation meeting, Sept. 14-18, 2003, Seattle, WA.

Sheldon, J.E. and Alber, M. 2001. Poster: Any way you slice it: A comparison of residence time calculations using simple compartment models of the Altamaha River estuary. ERF 2001: An Estuarine Odyssey (16th Biennial Conference of the Estuarine Research Federation). Freshwater Inflow: Science, Policy and Management. Estuarine Research Federation, Nov. 4-8, 2001, St. Pete Beach, Florida.

Alber, M. and Sheldon, J.E. 2000. Presentation: Residence times in the Altamaha River Estuary: a progress report. Southeastern Estuarine Research Society Meeting. Southeastern Estuarine Research Society, Oct 01, 2000, Tampa, Florida.

Newsletter and Newspaper Articles

Sheldon, W.M. Jr. 2006. Mining and Integrating Data from ClimDB and USGS using the GCE Data Toolbox. In: DataBits: An electronic newsletter for Information Managers: Spring 2006. Long Term Ecological Research Network, Albuquerque, NM.

 
LTER
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants OCE-9982133, OCE-0620959, OCE-1237140 and OCE-1832178. 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.