Relating precipitation and water management to nutrient concentrations in the oligotrophic "upside-down" estuaries of the Florida Everglades

Daniel L. Childers, Joseph N. Boyer, Stephen E. Davis, Christopher J. Madden, David T. Rudnick, Fred H. Sklar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


We present 8 yr of long-term water quality, climatological, and water management data for 17 locations in Everglades National Park, Florida. Total phosphorus (P) concentration data from freshwater sites (typically <0.25 μmol L-1, or 8 μg L-1) indicate the oligotrophic, P-limited nature of this large freshwater-estuarine landscape. Total P concentrations at estuarine sites near the Gulf of Mexico (average ≈0.5 μ mol L-1) demonstrate the marine source for this limiting nutrient. This "upside down" phenomenon, with the limiting nutrient supplied by the ocean and not the land, is a defining characteristic of the Everglade landscape. We present a conceptual model of how the seasonality of precipitation and the management of canal water inputs control the marine P supply, and we hypothesize that seasonal variability in water residence time controls water quality through internal biogeochemical processing. Low freshwater inflows during the dry season increase estuarine residence times, enabling local processes to control nutrient availability and water quality. El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events tend to mute the seasonality of rainfall without altering total annual precipitation inputs. The Niño3 ENSO index (which indicates an ENSO event when positive and a La Nina event when negative) was positively correlated with both annual rainfall and the ratio of dry season to wet season precipitation. This ENSO-driven disruption in seasonal rainfall patterns affected salinity patterns and tended to reduce marine inputs of P to Everglades estuaries. ENSO events also decreased dry season residence times, reducing the importance of estuarine nutrient processing. The combination of variable water management activities and interannual differences in precipitation patterns has a strong influence on nutrient and salinity patterns in Everglades estuaries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-616
Number of pages15
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number1 II
StatePublished - Jan 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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