Congratulations to Dr. Hilary Flower! Hilary has rapidly published a great series of three papers exploring the geochemical outcomes of saltwater intrusion into freshwater environments. Check out Hilary’s work here, here, and here.
Sea levels are rising on account of climate warming that is very real and very now. Most of us understand that rising seas inundate land, flood coastal cities, and threaten human infrastructure. Yet sea level rise has another less visible but perhaps equally dramatic outcome: the intrusion of saltwater into freshwater aquifers, ecosystems, and drinking-water wells. With salts come many chemical changes to water, and to the way water interacts with soils and sediments. Working in the karst limestone system of the Florida Everglades, Hilary investigated how saltwater intrusion affected the sorption and desorption dynamics of phosphate to and from sediments. Importantly, Hilary found that karst sediments lose their capacity to sorb phosphate at the very onset of saltwater intrusion, when the water interacting with sediments is <1% seawater! Rather, sediments desorb (lose) large, immediate pulses of phosphate as soon as they are hit with small amounts of seawater. These findings are critically important because they show that the chemical environment on which organisms and food webs depend is very sensitive to the unseen outcomes (e.g., saltwater intrusion) that ultimately arise from climate change.
Hilary’s work also highlights the value of interdisciplinary cooperation, as she did her chemical analyses with the Lewis Ecosystems Lab while pursuing her PhD in USF Geosciences under Mark Rains.