water types

tidal

Does tidal mean salty?
Usually but not always

Tidal waters are usually synonymous …

With some degree of saltiness.

A very low tide on Naples Beach, FL

At Naples Beach, where the tidal range is under three feet, you can usually count on 35 parts per thousand worth of sodium. Or in other words, salty to the taste. Just a mile inland the canals are fresh at under 1 part per thousand. In between, the water is what we call brackish.

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Question: What’s the deal with Naples Beach? Why does the long shore current switch directions on a whim?

Estuaries are where fresh and salt waters mix. How much they mix is usually a combination of the seasonal influx of freshwater — either by direct rain, ground water discharge or a river or creek — and the twice-daily waxing and waning of low and high tides.

beach and sand dollars
Tidal waters support an abundance of life

Saltwater intrusion is the term given to situations where canals, over-pumping or other diversionary drainage works open the door for more saltwater to infiltrate into the naturally freshwater zone. Saltwater intrusion can be solved with engineering to a degree, including saltwater barriers, moving or reducing ground water pumpage and other water works.

Too much freshwater can pose a problem for estuaries, too, such as at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Once a meandering coastal creek, over the past 150 years it has been lengthened and straightened into a sizeable canal. Today, the Caloosahatchee Canal (C-43) serves as the main release valve for spilling flood waters from the Big Lake to the coast, often overwhelming the downstream seagrasses and bivalves and harming the estuaries overall health.

Other times, freshwater will not drain after a storm because high tidal waters causes it to back up. This effect can be especially pronounced during tropical storms that major deluges coincide with high tide stands.

Nutrient enrichment from freshwaters can lead to algal blooms

In short, tidal waters are interesting from a number of standpoints, both for their seasonal and daily changes in their salinity, flow direction and magnitude.

tidal

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cultural waters

A River Runs Through Us
Water is a part of who we are

How central is water …

In our lives?

Water is at the heart of who we are

Probably no other substance, baring oxygen and carbon, do we rely on more. We need oxygen to breath, chains of carbon to eat and water to drink. But water is a lot more than just subsidence. It courses through every element of our lives. A topic of some of the greatest art and the earth’s most scenic spots, water is the foundation of our collective identify and connection to nature. And I’m not talking about our ecologic connection. People are attracted to water in all its forms. Water is both nurturing and at times, even a threat. But most of all it is ubiquitous in our lives as individuals and a society, from a deeply-woven multidisciplinary sense.

You can’t be a good historian without also understanding water. Ecologists ignore water at their own risk. Theologians of all creeds embrace the sacred nature of the substance. Recreation and water go hand in hand. Water is the great shaper of our lives, both by force and us trying to harness the bounty it can bring, or the plague of famine its absence may forebode.

We are attracted to waters at sunset

We pray for rain to fall as much as we pray for the rain to stop when its flood waters crest against the levees we’ve built to hold it back.

In sum, water is more than a sum of its parts. It’s ubiquitous in all aspects of our lives and we identify as individuals and citizens of the earth.

cultural waters

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Weather Drop

Climate trips up weather
Why climate is the new weather

Climate used to be a stodgy subject:

It stayed static while weather did all the acrobatics.

Do old rules still apply?

No longer! We know that the earth is warming, but from there and what it means for climates is anyone’s guess. To be clear, don’t count on New England to turn into the tropics anytime soon. What we can say is that we can no longer rely on the past as an exact blueprint of what’s about to unfold on the forecast next. Sure, you could call that weather, but really weather takes its cues from the larger climactic stew.

There’s an old saying: Climate is what we expect and weather is what we get. More and more we’re not sure what to expect and weather is a complete surprise, or nothing that we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

So goes climate, so goes local weather

A changing climate is also greatly misunderstood. Increases in greenhouse gases, have caused global temperatures to rise. In turn, that’s caused a net decrease in glacial ice and thermal expansion of the earth’s oceanic waters; or in other words – sea level rise. About sea level rise: It’s been happening starting at the peak of the last ice age, some 17,000 years, albeit very slowly (like a snail) — not on the scale of the current and projected modern-day frog leap.

In geologic times, climate has changed, both regionally and planet-wide. And climate is affected by oceanic currents, position relative to nearby land and water masses and winds as much as it is by latitude and altitude.

Somewhere the butterfly is flapping its wings

In sum, meteorologists are better than ever at forecasting the weather. Just don’t expect the bookends of the climactic record (recent past) to be an arbiter for what type of weather we may (or may not) get next.

Weather Drop

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Who Controls the Water
Or is it nature calling the shots?

The day humans discovered water …

We’ve been working to “try” to control it.

We’ve got this!

The catch? For every step forward there are usually two steps back. And lets face it, no matter how sophisticated we think we are, it’s usually been a trial and error approach. We don’t know what we have until we have it, and that usually means our initial plan needs more work.

I‘m reminded Tale of Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

So, whenever I drive anywhere in the Everglades and see a structure or other water management feature great and small, I imagine a wounded Humpty Dumpty crying for help, and a bunch of the “king’s horses and men” arriving on scene (or working behind the scenes) to figure out.

Or is there anyone there at all? The emergencies we manage are the emergencies we see, and usually they are only the ones that affect us the most, or are the topic of a public outcry that gains political traction.

bull dozer
Sometimes water control means returning it to nature

But are politicians the best arbiters of our waters? And to what degree are they able to deliver on their promises, especially when the experts are sidelined. And what if the answers are too hard to implement — does that mean we just punt the problem down the road. Some problems are so large in size and scale that they exceed the next election cycle, or the appetite of anyone to solve.

It’s a wonderful thought to think their is a Wizard of Oz type deity that is calling all the shots and in one flip of the switch can fix water problems left and right. The harder truth is that solving water problems takes time, good science and a willingness to do the right thing.

To answer the question: We all control the water, but only so much. Don’t expect nature or water to wait around or behave while we figure it out.

water control

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ecology

Ecology of water
Nature and water go hand in hand

How many cups of water should you drink per day?

Answer: You should drink to your thirst.

Water drives the pattern of trees in the swamp

Nature is the same way. It needs water in all its forms, and cannot live healthily without it. Look no further than a potted plant as proof. As homeowners, we are stewards to keeping those plants alive, and thriving. Failure to water them causes them to shrivel up and die.

Now think about nature on a grander scale. It’s dependence on the water cycle and water availability in all its forms is profound. How many times after a heavy summer deluge have you heard the frogs chirp. Or watched a deer take sip of water at the edge of nearby lake.

Water also helps the base of the swamp’s food web called periphyton to form

Water and nature go hand in hand. Being in tune with one means being in tune with the other. To be a hydrologist you have to also be a bit of a botanist, a geologist, an ecologist, a meteorologist, a climatologist, a wildlife biologist, a chemist … and the list goes on.

Water is inherently multidisciplinary. It helps us understand natural connections, great and small.

ecology

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