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Climate Change and the Everglades: Earth Image of the Week March 29, 2013
Satellite image of the Southern Lights over Antarctica
Sea level rise is causing the groundwater and the soils above across the Everglades to become more salty.
A sparkling early spring day across South Florida reveals from space one region of the world poised to be reshaped by climate change.

The image to the right shows how the sprawling urban environment of metropolitan Miami and coastal areas northward past Palm Beach have grown westward to a sharp edge at the border of the Everglades region.

The view was captured by NASA’s Terra as it passed over the Caribbean and Florida Peninsula at about noon Eastern Daylight Time on March 21, 2013. (Some cloudiness over the open Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico was removed from the image for contrast.)

The Everglades and its adjacent areas are unique because of their low elevations and subtropical climate.

Seasonal pulses of fresh water from the north during the summer rainy season meet with the constant fluctuation of the tides over the Everglades.

The combination nurtures several distinct ecosystems, including many in the mangrove vegetation despite massive human redirection of the fresh water for agriculture and other uses.

Some endangered tropical orchids and herbs are found only in the Everglades wetlands. But this ecology is likely to be either wiped out or forced to undergo large-scale evolution to survive as rising sea level due to a warming climate inundates the region.

Scientists aren’t sure if the species can tolerate the increased salinity that will come with the higher tides.

Over the last 50 years, researchers have observed an increase in the water level at some inland, freshwater sites in the wetlands that is consistent in pace seen elsewhere affected by higher sea levels.

While is is unclear if the two are related, most fear that encroaching salt water will have a major impact on the interior of South Florida within the lifetimes of many of the region’s human residents.

More information on climate change's anticipated effects on the Everglades can be found here.

Image: NASA's MODIS Rapid Response System