[Coral-List] Cold Florida water

Lauren Batte lauren.batte at noaa.gov
Thu Jul 31 08:43:18 EDT 2003

Melissa, Below is a recent press release related to your question.

Scientists Identify Important Source of
Nutrients to Florida's Coral Reefs

July 24, 2003

Dr. James Leichter
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
(858) 822-5330 jleichter at ucsd.edu

Dr. Steven Miller
NOAA's National Undersea Research Center
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
(305) 451-0233 millers at uncw.edu

UNCW professor teams with Scripps and UC-Berkeley scientists to identify

important source of nutrients to Florida's coral reefs

Key Largo, Florida -- Coral reef scientists were surprised to learn that
deep ocean is the source of 20-40 times more nitrogen and phosphorus on
the outer coral reef than nutrient pollution from sewage and storm water


A new study published this month documents a large and not previously
quantified source of nutrients to the coral reefs of the Florida Keys -
the deep
ocean. Lead author Dr. James Leichter, Scripps Institution of
said, "We studied upwelling of cool, subsurface water at multiple sites
the Florida Keys reef tract. Our results show that this natural source
nutrients can deliver as much as 20-40 times more nitrogen and
to the outer reef tract than estimates of nutrient pollution from sewage
storm water runoff."

While these numbers are remarkable it's important to provide context.
Dr. Steven Miller, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, added,
"I'm sure some people will try to use these numbers to claim that
sewage disposal practices in the Keys is unnecessary, but they would be
wrong. What our results show is that a major nutrient pump exists
However, nothing in our study contradicts the fact that we also have a
nearshore pollution problem."

The study was published this month in the journal Limnology and
Oceanography and was a collaboration among scientists from
ScrippsInstitution of Oceanography, the University of California at
Berkeley, and the
University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). Much of the work
conducted during this study utilized saturation diving and the NOAA
underwater laboratory in Key Largo.

"What I like about this study is that it provides a balanced approach to
complicated issue. They acknowledge that while upwelling is a
source of nutrients to the offshore reefs, they don't dismiss the need
better understand the dynamics of nearshore nutrient pollution making
way offshore," said Dr. Brian Keller, science coordinator for the
Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary.

The large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus are brought to the reef by
oceanographic process called upwelling, in this case a specific, high
frequency form of upwelling caused by internal tidal bores. Leichter
explained, "It's a little like waves sloshing back and forth in a
bathtub, but in
the ocean at much grander scales and in ways that sometimes cause surges

of deep water to move into much shallower areas. When this happens in
Keys, nutrients brought to the reef can increase 10 to 100 times over
background levels."

The upwelled water is rich in nutrients due to natural processes. When
plankton and other organisms produced or living in surface waters die,
often sink to the bottom. Leichter further explained, "As these
materials sink,
they start to break down, they get eaten and excreted, and the end
result is
the slow and continuous addition of nitrogen and phosphorus to waters
increasing depth."

Interestingly, the upwelled water makes it to the reef a lot more often
people realize, sometimes several times a day. "The presence of this
on the reef for extended periods of time has the potential to
affect the biology of corals, sponges, and algae," added Leichter.
"This study illustrates the importance of assessing water quality over
different time scales," said Dr. Joe Boyer of Florida International
Boyer manages the largest and longest running water quality monitoring
program in south Florida. "Our sanctuary-wide, quarterly monitoring
occasionally pick up these events, but are not designed to quantify this
of detail," he added.

Another important result of the study documents that a special form of
nitrogen in the upwelled water is also present in samples of algae
from the reef. This part of the work, led by Hannah Stewart, University
California - Berkeley, suggests that the algae are directly using
nitrogen from
the upwelled water. "This is particularly interesting because some
believe that this special form of nitrogen is a sewage signal - a
smoking gun
- for pollution, while our work clearly suggests otherwise for the
reefs," added Miller.

These results are the culmination of work first started in the early
initially with single deployments of oceanographic equipment that
the surprising frequency and intensity of the upwelling events, and
later with
equipment deployments throughout the Keys to document the regional
significance of these events. "While our study focused on a large
source of nutrients for the Florida Keys reef tract, things like coral
global warming, and overfishing are also important. The impacts of
in this system are clearly dramatic and complex. That's why it's
important to
accurately assess variability in this system that is a normal part of
the system," added Leichter.

The paper by James Leichter, Hannah Stewart, and Steven Miller, is
"Episodic nutrient transport to Florida coral reefs" (Limnology and
Oceanography Vol 48:1394-1407) and is available free at

This research was funded by NOAA's National Undersea Research Center at
the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). The Aquarius
underwater laboratory is owned by NOAA and is managed by UNCW
(www.uncw.edu/aquarius). Director UNCW National Undersea Research Center

For more information, contact:
Steven Miller
millers at uncw.edu

7/25/03 1:25 PM Environmental News Network - ENN Direct

Melissa Keyes wrote:

>   Hello Listers,
>   Many florida divers I know have been comenting for
> several weeks that there's a ferocious thermocline, at
> 50 feet and deeper, and the deeper water has been as
> cold as 55*f.
>   The beginning of lobster season for some was very
> successful, as the bugs are just kind of sitting
> around.  In some places normally active fish have been
> laying on their sides on the bottom.
>   Has there been any noticeable effect on corals in
> that area?
>   Is there a theory as to what's causing this?  Is it
> related to the very warm anomally in the North-eastern
> Atlantic several months ago?
>   One friend said it's because "Hell is finally
> freezing over."
>   Please forgive my *'measures.
>   Cheers,
>   Melissa Keyes, s/v Vinga
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