Navigation Links
First-of-its-kind study reveals surprising ecological effects of earthquake and tsunami

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) 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 have found on 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 Universidad Austral de Chile and UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute (MSI) were able to document the before-and-after ecological impacts of such cataclysmic occurrences. A new paper appearing today in the journal PLoS ONE elucidates the surprising results of their collaborative study, pointing to the potential effects of natural disasters on sandy beaches worldwide.

"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. 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," said Jenifer Dugan, an associate research biologist at MSI. " Dune plants are coming back in places 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. With joint support from Chile's Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cientfico y Tecnolgico and the U.S. National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research program, the scientists were already knee-deep in a collaborative study of how sandy beaches in Santa Barbara and south central Chile respond, ecologically, to man-made armoring such as seawalls and rocky revetments. As part of that project, the Chilean team surveyed nine sandy beaches along the coasts of Maule and Bobo in late January, 2010. The earthquake hit in February.

Realizing their unique opportunity, the scientists quickly changed gears and within days were back on the beaches to reassess their study sites in the catastrophe's aftermath. They have returned many times since, diligently documenting the ecological recovery and long-term effects of the earthquake and tsunami on these coastlines, in both natural and human-altered settings.

The magnitude and direction of land-level change brought the greatest impact, drowning beaches especially where the tsunami exacerbated earthquake-induced subsidence and widening and flattening beaches where the earthquake brought uplift. The drowned beach areas suffered mortality of intertidal life; the widened beaches quickly saw the return of plants and animals that had vanished due to the effects of coastal armoring.

"With the study in California and our study here, 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 author Eduardo Jaramillo, of 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. And the re-colonization of the mobile beach fauna was under way just weeks after."

With responses varying so widely depending on land-level changes, mobility of flora and fauna, and shore type, the findings show not only that the interactions of extreme events with armored beaches can produce surprising ecological outcomes but also suggest that landscape alteration, including armoring, can leave lasting footprints in coastal ecosystems.

"When someone builds a seawall, not only is beach habitat covered up with the wall itself, but, over time, sand is lost in front of the wall until the beach eventually drowns," Dugan said. "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. This is an underappreciated human impact on coastlines around the world, and with climate change squeezing beaches further, it's a very serious issue to consider."

Jaramillo elaborated, "This is very important because sandy beaches represent about 80 percent of the open coastlines globally. Also, sandy beaches are very good barriers against the sea level rise we are seeing around the world. It is essential to take care of sandy beaches. They are not only important for recreation, but also for conservation."

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.

Contact: Shelly Leachman
University of California - Santa Barbara

Related biology news :

1. American Sociological Association launches first-of-its-kind teaching tool
2. First-of-its-kind map details the height of the globes forests
3. First-of-its-kind study shows benefits of electrical stimulation therapy for people paralyzed by spinal cord injury
4. First-of-its-kind fluorescence map offers a new view of the worlds land plants
5. Long-term study shows effect of climate change on animal diversity
6. £2 million study to reveal workings of dementia genes
7. New study looks to define evangelicals and how they affect polling
8. CU-Boulder study suggests air quality regulations miss key pollutants
9. Researchers study acoustic communication in deep-sea fish
10. Study reveals homeowner perceptions in fire-prone areas
11. Researchers study how pistachios may improve heart health
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
First-of-its-kind study reveals surprising ecological effects of earthquake and tsunami
(Date:11/18/2015)... 18, 2015  As new scientific discoveries deepen our ... other healthcare providers face challenges in better using that ... In addition, as more children continue to survive pediatric ... and old age. John M. Maris, M.D ... of Philadelphia (CHOP) . --> John ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... 2015 Pressure BioSciences, Inc. (OTCQB: PBIO) ("PBI" ... sale of broadly enabling, pressure cycling technology ("PCT")-based sample ... announced it has received gross proceeds of $745,000 from ... (the "Offering"), increasing the total amount raised to date ... closings are expected in the near future. ...
(Date:11/11/2015)... MINNETONKA, Minn. , Nov. 11, 2015   MedNet ... the entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to announce ... Partnerships in Clinical Trials (PCT) event, to be held ... will be able to view live demonstrations of ... platform, and learn how iMedNet has been able ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... This fall, global software solutions leader ... five states to develop and pitch their BIG ideas to improve health and wellness ... competing for votes to win the title of SAP's Teen Innovator, an all-expenses paid ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... Nov. 24, 2015  Tikcro Technologies Ltd. (OTCQB: TIKRF) today announced that ... 2015 at 11:00 a.m. Israel time, at the ... Yigal Allon Street, 36 th Floor, Tel Aviv, Israel ... Paneth and Izhak Tamir to the Board of Directors; ... external directors; , approval of an amendment to certain terms of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... InSphero AG, the leading supplier of ... has promoted Melanie Aregger to serve as Chief Operating Officer. , Having ... management team and was promoted to Head of InSphero Diagnostics in 2014. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 HemoShear ... on discovering drugs for metabolic disorders, announced today ... to its Board of Directors (BOD). Mr. Watkins ... of Human Genome Sciences (HGS), and also served ... Jim Powers , Chairman and CEO ...
Breaking Biology Technology: