Winds of Change

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Science  25 May 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5521, pp. 1451
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5521.1451c

Infrequent major disturbances of ecosystems are, by definition, hard to study. They don't happen often, and pre-disturbance baseline data may not have been gathered. Hence, it can be difficult to determine whether an ecosystem recovers to its former state or switches to a new trajectory.

Paerl et al. studied the effects of floodwaters generated by three successive 1999 hurricanes (Dennis, Floyd, and Irene) on the estuarine ecosystem of Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, USA. Hydrological, biogeochemical, and ecological baseline data had been collected in monitoring programs installed the previous year. The floodwaters from the surrounding watershed were sufficient to displace 75% of the saline estuarine waters, producing a cascade of effects on water chemistry and on nutrient availability to phytoplankton, with significant depression of the estuarine food chain and fisheries. Although some ecosystem properties rebounded, these results suggest that the effects of the floodwaters might persist in the shallow estuary (average depth of 4.5 meters) for several years. — AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.98, 5655 (2001).

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