Mariners Hospital Aids Ecosystem Studies
Just as the rings of a tree can help scientists reconstruct past climate conditions, so can ocean sediment cores reveal the history of what has taken place in the marine ecosystem.
For over eight years, Anna Wachnicka, PhD, a research faculty member at Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center, in collaboration with a team of scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) lead by Lynn Wingard, PhD, has been analyzing sediment cores from the estuaries and coastal regions surrounding South Florida and the Florida Keys. Since 2013, Dr. Wachnicka has brought cores collected from the Marquesas Keys to Mariners Hospital for CT scanning. Recently she brought four cores from the Florida Bay’s mangrove islands.
“I contacted Mariners Hospital about the possibility of using their CT machine to create three-dimensional images of the cores, because the hospital is part of this neighborhood that includes our marine environment,” Dr. Wachnicka said. “The information revealed by the 3D images from the CT provides significant clues to the impact of climate change on the marine ecosystem. The CT images offer a much better view of the sediment layering than the X-rays we had been using. That helps tremendously in recovering the rich data embodied in the sediment.”
Dr. Wachnicka explained that the CT’s high resolution can reveal details of the core structures that cannot be detected by X-rays or visual logging. The CT images also help the scientists to discriminate between drill core artifacts and natural structures.
With the information extracted from the cores, Dr. Wachnicka and the USGS scientists can reconstruct what has taken place in South Florida and the Keys over the last few thousand years. One centimeter of core can yield from one to a few years of data, providing many insights into the effects of global climate change, sea level rise and human effect on coastal and marine environments.
“Every sedimentary layer that we can see on the CT images tells us a story about past environmental conditions. Our paleoenvironmental studies will provide data that will be used to model and predict both current and future environmental conditions under different climate change scenarios,” said Dr. Wachnicka.
She started her studies to determine how human alterations such as digging canals and home and road construction can affect water quality in the ecosystem in Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay and the Keys. She later expanded the study to include the impact of climate changes on the marine ecosystem. “It’s like a jigsaw” she said. “Closer to the coast, we see the human influence on marine ecosystems. Further away, such as Marquesas Keys and Dry Tortugas, we gather information about the effect of climate change.”
She and the USGS team are now collecting cores from mangrove islands, which provide information about island development, impact of sea level rise on the island and climate change-driven precipitation changes. “Using the 3D images from Mariners 64-slice CT scan have helped tremendously with our work, moving it along faster than if we had continued to use only X-rays,” she said.
Mariners Hospital is part of Baptist Health, the largest healthcare organization in the region. In addition to Mariners Hospital, Baptist Health includes Baptist Hospital, Baptist Children’s Hospital, Doctors Hospital, Homestead Hospital, South Miami Hospital and West Kendall Baptist Hospital as well as more than 30 outpatient and urgent care facilities spanning three counties. The not-for-profit, faith-based Baptist Health has more than 15,000 employees and 2,200 affiliated physicians and includes Baptist Health Medical Group, Baptist Outpatient Services and internationally renowned centers of excellence. Baptist Health Foundation, the organization’s fundraising arm, supports services at all hospitals and facilities. Baptist Health recently was listed by Fortune magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America (#19 in the nation and #1 in Florida) and has remained on the list for 14 years. It also was recognized as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the fourth year in a row by the Ethisphere Institute. Visit BaptistHealth.net.
Contact: Sheila Konczewski, 305-434-1020; SheilaK@BaptistHealth.net