Sea Level Rise Swamping Florida's Everglades

Rising sea levels are transforming the Florida Everglades.

Rising sea levels are transforming the Florida Everglades, a new study shows. Plant communities that thrive in salt water are expanding along the coast, leaving less room for plants that depend on fresh water.

Salt-loving mangroves in the Everglades have marched inland in the past decade, while freshwater plants - such as saw grass, spike rush and tropical hardwood trees - lost ground, according to a study published in the October 2013 issue of the journal Wetlands.

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The findings, which come from an analysis of satellite imagery from 2001 through 2010, match long-term trends tracked on the ground for the past 70 years, said lead study author Douglas Fuller, a geographer at the University of Miami.

"I was very surprised at how well the results matched our understanding of long-term trends and field data," Fuller said in a statement. "Normally, we don't see such clear patterns."

Satellite imagery of the southern Everglades - a region that includes Florida City, Key Largo and the upper Keys - revealed large patches of freshwater vegetation loss within 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of the coast. Only freshwater plants in the interior, about 5 miles inland (8 km), showed growth trends, the researchers found.

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Tracking growth and plant loss is an important part of ongoing restoration efforts in the Everglades. Changes in water management, such as the implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, may help offset the potential effects of saltwater intrusion, the researchers said. "However, restoration may not suffice if sea level rise accelerates in the coming decades," Fuller said.

The Everglades are one of the largest wetlands in the world. Water flows from north to south through a sea of grass underlain by cavernous limestone. In the past 200 years, about half of the original wetlands have disappeared.

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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A satellite view of the southern Everglades, Florida City, Key Largo and other parts of Florida Bay and the upper Keys.

Summer is almost over, but there is still time for one last road trip over Labor Day weekend. Visitors don't even have to get out of their cars to enjoy some of America's natural beauty. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presented these 10 wilderness areas that can be enjoyed from behind the wheel. Or simply take in the scenery from the desktop of your computer.

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

The 12-mile drive through Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge passes salt marshes, woodlands and fields near Delaware Bay, south of Philadelphia. At this time of year herons, egrets and black-necked stilts wade the waters of the refuge. Birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, make their homes there year-round.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

This October, a four-mile-long wildlife drive through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge will reopen after repaving. The route winds through mangrove forests, marshes and clumps of hardwood trees. Roseate spoonbills (shown here), storks, herons, pelicans, bald eagles, otters, bobcats and alligators live in the refuge, which was named for a Pulitzer-prize winning political and environmental cartoonist.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Drive south from Albuquerque to reach the 12-mile auto loop of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for spectacular views of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. At dawn from late October through early spring, flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese fly out of the refuge to feed in fields and return at dusk to the wetlands, like the sleeping cranes in this nighttime photo.

National Bison Range, Montana

A steep 19-mile gravel road up Red Sleep Mountain leads to outstanding views of grasslands where herds of bison, antelope, elk, big horn sheep and deer graze in the National Bison Range of Montana. The sight of the Mission Mountain range of the Rockies rewards travelers who make it to the top.

Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges, California

In northern California, the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges offer two chances to glimpse Mt. Shasta and do some birdwatching from behind the wheel. Take either the 10.2-mile Lower Klamath loop or an alternative side route that leads to a hiking trail head and boasts seasonal views of ducks and geese (spring/fall), white pelicans and western grebes (summer), and bald eagles and other raptors (winter).

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Moose, bear, snowshoe hares, beaver and lynx roam near the Skilak Loop Wildlife Drive, an 18.5-mile gravel loop in the Kenai refuge. The drive passes through a black spruce forest and along Skilak Lake and Engineer Lake.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

A three-mile drive leads to the top of Mt. Scott in the Wichita Mountains southwest of Oklahoma City. From there, motorists can take in a panoramic view of the Wichita Mountain range. In the shadows of the mountains, bison roam through the wildflowers of some of the United State’s last untilled prairie.

Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan

In the Seney refuge, the seven-mile Marshland Wildlife Drive provide a view of wetlands and open water. The route also passes through forests in the Great Manistique Swamp, an old lumbering area, now home to beaver, river otters, bald eagles, osprey, black bear and numerous birds in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Near the bank of the Columbia River, a 4.2-mile gravel loop road cuts through fields, wetlands and forests in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, north of Portland, Oregon. Along the way, an observation blind allows visitors to catch a surreptitious glimpse of many birds, such as the red-tailed hawk shown here, as well as mallard ducks and sandhill cranes.

Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota

Over the gently rolling hills of upland prairie in North Dakota, the 19-mile Refuge Backway allows motorists to see moose, deer, turkeys, raptors and migrant birds in the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. In Autumn, land managers conduct controlled burns to restore the health of the grassland.