Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First-of-its-Kind Study Reveals Surprising Ecological Effects of 2010 Chile Earthquake

07.05.2012
Long-forgotten coastal habitats reappeared, species unseen for years returned

The reappearance of long-forgotten habitats and the resurgence of species unseen for years may not be among the expected effects of a natural disaster.

Yet that's exactly what researchers found in a study of the sandy beaches of south central Chile, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami in 2010.

Their study also revealed a preview of the problems wrought by sea level rise--a major symptom of climate change.

In a scientific first, researchers from Southern University of Chile and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) were able to document the before-and-after ecological impacts of such cataclysmic occurrences.

A paper appearing today in the journal PLoS ONE details the surprising results of their study, pointing to the potential effects of natural disasters on sandy beaches worldwide.

The study is said to be the first-ever quantification of earthquake and tsunami effects on sandy beach ecosystems along a tectonically active coastal zone.

"So often you think of earthquakes as causing total devastation, and adding a tsunami on top of that is a major catastrophe for coastal ecosystems," said Jenny Dugan, a biologist at UCSB.

"As expected, we saw high mortality of intertidal life on beaches and rocky shores, but the ecological recovery at some of our sandy beach sites was remarkable.

"Plants are coming back in places where there haven't been plants, as far as we know, for a very long time. The earthquake created sandy beach habitat where it had been lost. This is not the initial ecological response you might expect from a major earthquake and tsunami."

Their findings owe a debt to serendipity.

The researchers were knee-deep in a study supported by FONDECYT in Chile and the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) Santa Barbara Coastal Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site of how sandy beaches in Santa Barbara and south central Chile respond, ecologically, to man-made armoring such as seawalls and rocky revetments.

By late January, 2010, they had surveyed nine beaches in Chile.

The earthquake hit in February.

Recognizing a unique opportunity, the scientists changed gears and within days were back on the beaches to reassess their study sites in the catastrophe's aftermath.

They've returned many times since, documenting the ecological recovery and long-term effects of the earthquake and tsunami on these coastlines, in both natural and human-altered settings.

"It was fortunate that these scientists had a research program in the right place--and at the right time--to allow them to determine the responses of coastal species to natural catastrophic events," said David Garrison, program director for NSF's coastal and ocean LTER sites.

The magnitude and direction of land-level change resulting from the earthquake and exacerbated by the tsunami brought great effects, namely the drowning, widening and flattening of beaches.

The drowned beach areas suffered mortality of intertidal life; the widened beaches quickly saw the return of biota that had vanished due to the effects of coastal armoring.

"With the study in California and Chile, we knew that building coastal defense structures, such as seawalls, decreases beach area, and that a seawall results in the decline of intertidal diversity," said lead paper author Eduardo Jaramillo of the Universidad Austral de Chile.

"But after the earthquake, where significant continental uplift occurred, the beach area that had been lost due to coastal armoring has now been restored," said Jaramillo. "And the re-colonization of the mobile beach fauna was underway just weeks afterward."

The findings show that the interactions of extreme events with armored beaches can produce surprising ecological outcomes. They also suggest that landscape alteration, including armoring, can leave lasting footprints in coastal ecosystems.

"When someone builds a seawall, beach habitat is covered up with the wall itself, and over time sand is lost in front of the wall until the beach eventually drowns," said Dugan.

"The semi-dry and damp sand zones of the upper and mid-intertidal are lost first, leaving only the wet lower beach zones. This causes the beach to lose diversity, including birds, and to lose ecological function."

Sandy beaches represent about 80 percent of the open coastlines globally, said Jaramillo.

"Beaches are very good barriers against sea level rise. They're important for recreation--and for conservation."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov
Shelly Leachman, UCSB (805) 893-8726 shelly.leachman@ia.ucsb.edu
Related Websites
NSF Santa Barbara Coastal LTER Site: http://sbc.lternet.edu/
NSF LTER Network: http://www.lternet.edu
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget is $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards nearly $420 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Do microplastics harbour additional risks by colonization with harmful bacteria?
05.04.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>