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August 22, 2019

This page last modified:
April 06, 2001

Volume 2, No. 2
Fall 1999

Understanding Florida Bay

Where water comes from, where it is going, and what this means to Florida Bay is the first in a series of five central questions which now drive research in Florida Bay. The five questions focus a coordinated research program across local, state, and federal agencies under the leadership of the Program Management Committee (See Vol. 1, No. 1).

The significance of Question 1 is two fold according to Dr. Peter Ortner, PMC member and co-chair of the Physical Science Research Team for Florida Bay. "First, it is necessary to understand the physical regime or circulation of the bay in order to predict what will happen if we change water management. This involves determining all of the natural processes controlling the physics of the Bay. Second, to discover the physical interconnections between the Bay, the Southwest Florida continental shelf and the coral reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This information will help us determine the degree of change that would make an impact on these systems."

Currently, more than a dozen physical science research projects are underway in Florida Bay. These projects take two general forms, data collection and model development. Data collection involves measuring temperature, wind, movement of water, salinity and a number of other parameters. In addition, historical information is gathered through studies of the layers of sediment beneath Florida Bay. Major components of the research program include regularly mapping the Bay, assessing water movement, and monitoring water properties and meteorological parameters.

All of this information is then fed into computer simulation models. Two types of models are underway. One simulates circulation within the bay and between the bay, eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. The other allows for predictions of wind and rain. These models are being developed to assist resource managers in determining the impacts of water management decisions. By entering details of proposed alterations in water movement managers will be able to predict the resulting changes in Florida Bay.The Florida Bay Research Program has been underway for close to five years. "Physical science research is quite a mature effort at this point," stated Dr. Ortner. Research is bringing the scientific community ever closer to an understanding of how the bay functions. In the near future, the program will progress from pure research to long-term monitoring, continuing to aid resource managers.Florida Bay is one piece of the overall Everglades ecosystem which is approximately 10,800 square miles extending from Orlando to the Dry Tortugas. The goal of Everglades ecosystem restoration is to return the system to something of its former glory. This research program provides the information and tools necessary to understand a system that has been developing for thousands of years and hopefully how to repair it. The work is not quick and can at times be painstaking. With restoration costs estimated at $6 to $8 billion over the next 20 years, investing in science now may keep us from making costly mistakes in the future.For more information on specific research projects, and the Florida Bay and Adjacent Marine Systems Science Program overall, visit their web site at

The Science of Florida Bay

Scientist are using several techniques to gain a better understanding of the physical processes in Florida Bay and surrounding regions as part of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration and Prediction Program. The methods include drifting surface buoys, an extensive array of moored instruments to monitor current and salinity, and research cruises.
Drifting buoys are used to track water movement within western Florida Bay and between the bay, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. The buoys are released at Shark River and drift with the currents until they are recovered or lost. In fact, some drifter buoys have amazed scientists. "We had one buoy released at Shark River that circumnavigated the Marquesas during Tropical Storm Mitch," remarked Ms. Liz Williams, research scientist with the University of Miami. "The same buoy then recirculated several times in coastal eddies between the middle Keys and the Dry Tortugas and even as far north as Key Largo." The information collected assists researchers in tracking water movement and connecting it to biological aspects of the bay such as lobster and fish larvae recruitment.Information on water properties and meteorology is collected from permanent monitoring stations established along the western side of Florida Bay as part of the SEAKEYS project. This is a network of monitoring stations set up in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the reef tract collecting continuous data. Unlike the drifter buoy program, these sensors remain in a fixed location and record information on that specific site. Salinity, water temperature, water clarity and rainfall are some of the parameters measured by these instruments.Data on nutrients, plankton, salinity distribution and other physical and biological aspects of the bay are being collected from the University of Miami's coastal research vessels by a diverse group of scientists: oceanographers, marine biologists, atmospheric chemists and marine geologists. Research cruises represent the third approach of the physical science program. The Florida Bay Research Program encourages these multidisciplinary efforts which are cost efficient and encourage communication and collaboration among scientists.Data collected through all methods will eventually be used with two computer models. The first is designed to predict circulation in the interior of Florida Bay and the western side of the bay. The second is a meteorological model that makes predictions based on rainfall and wind data."Circulation patterns in Florida Bay are dependent on an interplay between episodic events driven by storms and synoptic weather patterns and the water exchange between the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico" summarized Dr. Williams. "Understanding this interplay will ultimately lead to an improved capacity to make informed water management decisions particularly in watersheds from Cape Sable, Shark River and north."

Florida Bay Project Profile 87 provides a general overview of the SEAKEYS Project (see opposite page). Daily and historical enhanced data collected through the Project, together with bulletins from the Florida Straits, may be accessed on the World Wide Web at 

Florida Bay Science Conference

The Florida Bay and Adjacent Waters Science Conference held in November was a big success. This was the fourth such event, bringing research scientists together to communicate and collaborate on all science related issues in Florida Bay.

Over 250 people attended the conference, which was held at the Westin Resort in Key Largo, Florida. Seventy-one presentations were given and 65 posters were on display detailing the latest developments in Florida Bay Research.

More information on the Science Conference will be available in our Winter edition.

Research Profiles

The Florida Bay Education Project has developed a series of Florida Bay Research Project Profiles. The series translates the scientific language of Florida Bay researchers into more easily understood terms.

There are profiles available on many different research topics, including sedimentology, paleoecology, water circulation and currents, higher trophic levels, and seagrass ecology. The profiles identify the researcher, the question being asked, how the experiment is being conducted, findings to date, the status of the project, impacts to restoration and who funds the research. The profiles are provided in both English and Spanish.

Project profiles related to Physical Science include:

Florida Bay Circulation and Exchange Study Dr. Thomas Lee
Modeling the Currents of Hawk Channel and Beyond Dr. John Wang
Florida Bay Ecosystem History Database Dr. Jeffery Stone
Salinity Trends in Florida Bay During the Past 100 Years Dr. Robert Halley
Increased Salinity in Florida Bay - Nature or Man? Dr. Thomas Cronin
Mapping the Florida Bay Bottom Dr. Ellen Prager
Environmental Monitoring Stations in the Florida Keys Dr. John Ogden

Copies of the research project profiles are available from the Florida Bay Education Project office in Tavernier.

The Florida Bay Education Project is an archived site. For more information go to NOAA's South Florida Ecosystem Education Project at