Seminar focuses on sea-level rise

The School of the Environment evaluated coastal wetlands and the rising tide on Friday. Photo courtesy: Kendyll Lurry

Florida A&M University’s School of the Environment hosted its weekly seminar series on Friday. The series is designed to help students who have a passion for STEM programs with professional development, networking and keeping up with current events as they pertain to the environment.

The host of these weekly seminars is Sadiki Perry, the School of the Environment’s academic programs coordinator. This week’s session, “Coastal Wetlands and Rising Tide,” was presented by Florida State University professor Havalend E. Steinmuller.

She is a post-doctoral scholar at FSU’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory in Franklin County. Her research focuses on how global climate affects microbially-mediated biogeochemical functions within coastal systems.

“Specifically, [Steinmuller] investigates how sea levels rise, coastal eutrophication, and vegetation transitions alter ecosystem processing of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, both on a landscape and a microbial scale,” Perry said.

“I’m a coastal biogeochemist, which means that I study how nutrients [fluctuates] between different spheres of the natural environment,” Steinmuller said. “If it has sphere in it and it has carbon, it’s a thing that I look at.”

Those who attended this week’s seminar were able to evaluate how sea-level rise induced transitions alter biogeochemical cycling in coastal wetlands. Steinmuller’s research assessed how landward transgression alter biogeochemical transformations. Results from her studies address how biogeochemical functioning, specifically nutrients cycling, water quality, and C sequestration, within coastal wetlands respond to stressors associated with sea level rise.

“Why coastal wetlands?” Steinmuller said. “Wetlands only cover about 8% of land area, but they’re able to sequester this disproportional amount of carbon. Wetlands sequester 16% of vast carbon storage, so they’re good at sequestering carbon but they’re also important in terms of water quality.”

Sea level rise, biogeochemical shifts, and ecosystem-level changes were the stressors of coastal wetlands that Steinmuller discussed.

Steinmuller highlighted the stressor in terms of biogeochemical shifts, by which carbon cycling and elements like nitrogen and phosphorus flow through the environment. “Saltwater intrusion has the potential to catalyze internal eutrophication from freshwater wetland soils, especially organic soils, exporting bioavailable nutrients,” Steinmuller said. “Bio-available nutrients within those deep soils store 8-11 times higher than at the surface and can contribute to coastal hypoxia.”

In regard to sea level rise, “One of the biggest threats to coastal wetlands is sea level rise,” Steinmuller said. “Coastal wetlands are at the interface between upland or terrestrial areas, and these aquatics are marine zones. So, [coastal wetlands] are really getting the brunt of that sea level rise stressor.”

In terms of ecosystem-level changes, “Salt-grass encroachment can enhances carbon and nitrogen burial while simultaneously accelerating carbon cycling which can alter the landscapes scale nutrient dynamics,” Steinmuller said.

The seminar concluded with an opportunity to ask questions.

To stay up to date on these weekly sessions, keep a look out for emails from FAMUINFO in regard to School of the Environment’s Weekly Seminar Series.