During Phase I of the FCE-LTER project, researchers began to document the long-term changes in the size and location of the estuarine ecotones in response to sea level rise, hurricanes, increased freshwater inflows, and fire. They expected that, over intermediate time scales (years to decades), the sea level rise and hurricanes will force the estuarine boundary of the ecotone landward, while increased freshwater inflows and fire will either force the freshwater boundary seaward or hold it near its current location. In the long term, though (decades to a century), scientists expected marine forces to prevail and the entire ecotone region to shift landward.
Researchers found that the accumulation of peat due to the expansion of mangroves, which build this soil, was equal to the amount of sea level rise. However, the short-term sediment deposition associated with storm surge events was found to be much higher. For example, the storm surge from Hurricane Wilma (October, 2005) deposited over 3 cm of carbonate mud in the mangrove forests near the Gulf of Mexico.
Sediment deposited on a boardwalk by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005