The Role of Ocean Tides on Groundwater-Surface Water Exchange in a Mangrove-Dominated Estuary: Shark River Slough, Florida Coastal Everglades, USA

Christopher G. Smith, United States Geological Survey
René M. Price, Florida International University
Peter W. Swarzenski, United States Geological Survey Western Region
Jeremy C. Stalker, University of North Florida


Low-relief environments like the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) have complicated hydrologic systems where surface water and groundwater processes are intimately linked yet hard to separate. Fluid exchange within these low-hydraulic-gradient systems can occur across broad spatial and temporal scales, with variable contributions to material transport and transformation. Identifying and assessing the scales at which these processes operate is essential for accurate evaluations of how these systems contribute to global biogeochemical cycles. The distribution of 222Rn and 223,224,226Ra have complex spatial patterns along the Shark River Slough estuary (SRSE), Everglades, FL. High-resolution time-series measurements of 222Rn activity, salinity, and water level were used to quantify processes affecting radon fluxes out of the mangrove forest over a tidal cycle. Based on field data, tidal pumping through an extensive network of crab burrows in the lower FCE provides the best explanation for the high radon and fluid fluxes. Burrows are irrigated during rising tides when radon and other dissolved constituents are released from the mangrove soil. Flushing efficiency of the burrows—defined as the tidal volume divided by the volume of burrows—estimated for the creek drainage area vary seasonally from 25 (wet season) to 100 % (dry season) in this study. The tidal pumping of the mangrove forest soil acts as a significant vector for exchange between the forest and the estuary. Processes that enhance exchange of O2 and other materials across the sediment-water interface could have a profound impact on the environmental response to larger scale processes such as sea level rise and climate change. Compounding the material budgets of the SRSE are additional inputs from groundwater from the Biscayne Aquifer, which were identified using radium isotopes. Quantification of the deep groundwater component is not obtainable, but isotopic data suggest a more prevalent signal in the dry season. These findings highlight the important role that both tidal- and seasonal-scale forcings play on groundwater movement in low-gradient hydrologic systems.