The Florida Everglades are a region of tropical wetlands, home to many rare and endangered plants and a 15,000-year human history. Unfortunately, these species and artifacts are at risk of extinction and erosion due to changing water levels caused by climate change and industrialization.
Archaeologists from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Archaeological Research Laboratory are investigating the effect that changes in the Everglades' water levels have had on people, plants, and archaeological and ecological resources in the past and present in order to predict the future.
The research has implications for mitigating the effects of climate change by investigating future impacts of changing water levels.
UT has received more than $175,000 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the work to be conducted by archaeologists Howard Cyr and Kandi Hollenbach. The research is part of a multidisciplinary project contracted through the private firm Brockington and Associates Inc. in order to assess the environmental impact of the Everglades Restoration Transition Plan, a multibillion-dollar project authorized by Congress and aimed at revitalizing the wetlands.
"An important part of being able to notice if our environment is changing is to know what it was like in the past," Cyr said. "Our research will allow us to gain a better picture of changes in historic and prehistoric water levels and their effects on prehistoric human populations and how they mitigated environmental changes. It also allows us to assess the effect water level changes have had on the ecology and habitability of the area."
The researchers say this knowledge will be especially important for population centers along the Atlantic seaboard, where a minor rise in sea level can have a dramatic effect on local flooding, storm intensity and habitability.
"We've all seen in recent media coverage that studying the effects of past and present global climate change is of great importance if we are to understand, predict, and mitigate future changes," Cyr said.
Through the analysis of sediment cores and material collected from archaeological test units on tree islands—slight elevations in the grassy waters—the archaeologists will investigate the development of these islands. They also will look at the relationship between the prehistoric landscape and the people living on the island at the time, and the effect of environmental change on archaeological sites and their artifacts. The artifacts chronicle approximately 6,000 years of human experience and include ceramic pottery, worked shell and bone objects, and various wooden artifacts originating with Native Americans as well as shipwrecks, pioneer homesteads and even a Cold War era Nike missile site.
"Climate change effects such as sea level rise and increased salinity can harm fragile archaeological sites around the Everglades, washing away pieces of human history," Cyr said.
The researchers will collaborate with Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology and Steve Rabbysmith and other archaeologists from Brockington and Associates.
UT's Archaeological Research Laboratory, housed in the Department of Anthropology, is a consulting, cultural resource assessment, and research unit. For more information, visit http://archaeology.as.utk.edu.
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