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ESS Jigsaw Team Formation

What are some interrelated teaching opportunities?
This module has been designed for the middle school science curriculum. However, given the issues that will arise during student research, students will engage in a variety of academic disciplines. This module lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach with the following curriculums in mind:

social studies, history, & geography
math
language arts / writing
art

Providing for Reflection
Despite a limited level of commitment while working on a module, students can still experience significant learning if they enter into the reflection process. Ideally, reflection occurs at various points during the module; however, reflection done only at the close of a module can also be a powerful learning experience.

 

Image that reads Module Notes: Florida Everglades.

Comprehensive Sample of ESS Protocol
First, you will do an Earth system science analysis. Then, you will make predictions, based on the results of the ESS analysis, concerning the future of the Florida Panther.

Following the steps below will help you to accomplish your task for the Everglades Wildlife Refuge.

Step 1 List what is known. 
Step 2 List what is needed.
Step 3 Gather information to complete an ESS analysis. ( Event to Sphere, Sphere to Sphere)
Step 4 Present your findings.


Step 1: List What Is Known
The two columns below illustrate the parallel jobs to be completed in Step 1. You do not need to conduct any research to do this step. Use your current knowledge and information from the scenario to fill in the lines provided. In the space provided in the first column, list what you know about the Florida Panther.

Then look at the Earth System Diagram in the second column. Notice how the arrows go to and from the event and spheres. These arrows indicate that the cause and effect relationships go both from the event to the spheres and from the spheres to the event (Image of a gold double-sided arrow.). While thinking about these relationships, list your ideas about how the event--restoring the flow and level of water in the Everglades--could possibly impact the four spheres that make up the Everglades ecosystem.

List prior knowledge about the Florida Panther.

  • The Florida Panther is a relatively large cat that lives mostly in and around the Florida Everglades.
  • It is a relative of other large cats around the United States such as the cougar, mountain lion, catamount, and puma. Sometimes these names are used interchangeably.
  • Like most other wild cats, it does not like extremely wet places and spends much of its time in and around trees during the day and hunting at night.
  • It hunts small animals like raccoons for food.
  • The Florida Panther has been declared an endangered species.

List prior knowledge of Earth system science regarding the restoration of water levels and flow to the Everglades.

Image of a four type interaction Earth System Diagram.  Please have someone assist you with this.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Biosphere

  • Terrestrial organisms moved into the Everglades when the area began to dry up. Habitats of many land-based plants and animals will be covered by water if flow is restored to the Everglades. Many terrestrial organisms will be left with nowhere to live.
  • Animals that rely on wetlands organisms for food could suffer or even starve if their food supplies are covered by rising water levels.
  • Habitats for many aquatic organisms could be created with the restoration of water because these organisms require water to live in:
  • aquatic organisms that left the Everglades because of a lack of water may return
  • populations of endangered aquatic organisms remaining in the Everglades may begin to recover.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere

  • Groundwater supply may increase as the restored water drains down through the soil.
  • The removal of water may have caused the soil to become so dry that it might not be able to soak up water the way it used to. Therefore water may just flow across the surface and not enter the ground water system. This is like what happens in the desert. Ancient streambeds fill with water that flows through them during the few yearly rains. The streambed is so dry and hard that the water just rushes over it. It is not able to soak in to the ground.
  • When people began farming in land that was formerly the Everglades, they changed the topography of the land. As a result, restored water may not flow along the original path.
  • If land becomes covered with water, it will no longer be available for agriculture and other human activities.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Atmosphere

  • An increase in the surface area of water offers a greater area from which water can evaporate. This could lead to increased water vapor in the atmosphere and, ultimately, increased precipitation.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Hydrosphere

  • Restoration of the flow and level of water through the Everglades would increase the amount of water in the system.
  • The water cycle may be enhanced (see Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Atmosphere).

Step 2:  List What Is Needed. 
Now that you have an idea of what you DO know about Florida Panther and the impacts of the event on the spheres and the spheres on the event, you need to think about what you DO NOT know. Below, you will ask questions that will guide the research that may take place on the Internet, in the library, or with other sources. In the first column, list your questions about the Florida Panther.

Ask questions in the second column to direct the research you will conduct in Step 3. These questions should help you to focus your research on finding information to complete the ESS analysis of the impacts that restoring the flow and level of water in the Everglades could have on the four spheres that make up the Everglades ecosystem.

List your questions regarding the Florida Panther.

  • What is the history of the Florida Panther over the last century?
  • What type of habitat does the Florida Panther need to hide, hunt and raise its young?
  • What is the range requirement of the Florida Panther (i.e. how much land does it need)?
  • What are the present range limitations of the Florida Panther?
  • What does the Florida Panther eat?
  • What is the life cycle of the Florida Panther?
  • What is the gestation period of the Florida Panther?
  • How many Florida Panthers exist in the wild?
  • How many Florida Panthers are needed to sustain a population (i.e. keep it from dying off)?
  • Can the Florida Panther breed in captivity?

List your questions regarding the impacts that restoring the water flow and level in the Everglades could have on the four spheres that make up the Everglades.

  • What happens to the soil ecology by covering existing relatively dry soil or raising the water table and saturating existing soil?
  • What happens to land plants as the water rises and covers the soil and the roots, but not the stems and leaves?
  • What will be the source of the water used to increase the flow and level of water in the Everglades?
  • Does the water being introduced into the wetlands contain agricultural run-off or other pollutants?
  • Will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades change the pH, salinity, or other chemistry of the existing water in that area?
  • What is the role of algae in the Everglade ecosystem?
  • Is the depth of the water in the Everglades important?
  • Will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades result in an increase in evaporation and a subsequent increase in humidity?
  • Will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades increase erosion?
  • Will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades increase plant decay and swamp gas?
  • Will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades cause problems for animals that have to migrate to the drier areas of the Everglades?
  • How will the increase in the flow and level of water in the Everglades impact the extremely dry conditions and fires of the past year?
  • What are hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and thicket swamps?
  • How much water is being drained and/or diverted from the Everglades and used for consumption?
  • How much lower is the current water level (before restoration) than the historic water level (before draining and water use for cities began)?
  • What is the difference in elevation between Orlando, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay?
  • What is the retention time of water in the Everglades?
  • Are there dikes separating the cropland from the Everglades?
  • What is the annual precipitation in south Florida?

Step 3: Gather information to complete an ESS analysis.

Part I: Using the answers from your research, list any additional cause and effect relationships you found for the event and the spheres. These relationships should build on or be different from the ones you listed in Step 1. The answers you find should explain the possible causes and effects the restoration of the flow and level of water in the Everglades could have on the spheres that comprise that ecosystem. Keep track of where you locate information. You may need to look it up again when you do Step 4.

Image of a four type interaction Earth System Diagram.  Please have someone assist you with this.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Biosphere

  • Many species of plants and animals in the Everglades require water for habitat, breeding and hunting grounds. Their survival depends upon having enough water to carry out their daily activities. Restoring the natural flow of water through the Everglades ecosystem may benefit these species.
  • Many species of plants and animals near the Everglades require dry land for habitat, breeding and hunting grounds. Their survival depends upon having enough dry land to carry out their daily activities. Restoring the natural flow of water through the Everglades ecosystem may harm these species. An example is the Florida Panther.
  • Food supplies for many animals may be covered by rising water levels, causing populations to move in search of new habitat and food sources. Some organisms may not be able to escape the rising water and might drown. An example is the Florida Panther.
  • Wetlands are natural water filtration systems, they can be used for the treatment of wastewater, agricultural runoff, and acid mine drainage. However, when pollutants become too concentrated, they begin to degrade the wetland itself. This problem could occur in areas where too many pollutants are allowed to flow through wetlands.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere

  • The restoration of the water level and flow to the Everglades ecosystem could completely change the soil ecology of the area by either covering soil that is currently relatively dry or by raising the water table and saturating soil.
  • Years of sedimentation have resulted in extremely fertile soils within some wetlands, many of them were drained and converted to croplands. The crops grown here may be a source of food for other animals besides humans. Restoration of the water flow and level could cover that cropland.

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Atmosphere

  • The intense heat with the large surface area of water in southern Florida has resulted in high levels of humidity. An increase in water surface area could lead to increased evaporation, and thus increased humidity.
  • Increased water flow may lead to increased anaerobic decomposition, and ultimately increased production of methane (swamp gas).

Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Hydrosphere

  • There are three natural sources of water to the Everglades: precipitation, overflow, and groundwater. Water from these sources is delivered to the Everglades on regular cycles of wet periods, or hydroperiods. Hydroperiods are based on the natural cycle of water through the hydrosphere. Increased water flow and level to the Everglades may not occur at the same interval as the natural hydroperiods.
  • Water flows from the Everglades into the Florida Bay. Since there has been a decrease in freshwater flowing from the Everglades to the Bay, the salinity (salt concentration) of the Bay has increased. If flow of freshwater into the Everglades increases, then the amount of freshwater flowing into Florida Bay will increase. This could reduce the salinity of the Bay by diluting the water.
  • Estuaries, coastal rivers, low lying irrigation systems, mangrove forests, and tidal wetlands would also be subject to increased water flows. This could lead to flooding and changes in water chemistry in these waterways.
  • According to "The Plan to Restore America's Everglades", water used for restoration of the Everglades will come from the ocean or gulf. These are both saltwater ecosystems. The Everglades is a freshwater ecosystem. Adding saltwater to the Everglades will increase the salinity of the water in that ecosystem.

Part II: Using the answers from your research, list the cause and effect relationships that occur between and among the spheres. Note: Begin thinking about how these relationships may in turn affect the future of the Florida Panther.

Image of a six type interaction Earth System Diagram.  Please have someone assist you with this.

Atmosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Biosphere

  • Some microorganisms in a wetlands biosphere produce methane that is released into the atmosphere. Methane is the "swamp gas" that people often smell in wetlands.

Atmosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Hydrosphere

  • Increased water flow should increase the surface area of water in the Everglades. That would lead to increased evaporation and have some small impact on the microclimate by making the air in the Everglades more humid.
  • Precipitation from the atmosphere is a major source of water for many wetlands. This is supported by the fact that wetlands do not exist in dry climates (i.e. areas that do not receive much rain).

Atmosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere

  • Certain atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide may be trapped in the moist soil of a wetlands lithosphere.

Biosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Hydrosphere

  • The restoration of the water level and flow to the Everglades ecosystem could completely change the biotic make-up of the area. There may be more aquatic plants growing in the Everglades. Soon there could also be more aquatic consumers and fewer terrestrial animals.
  • Depth of water can impact the aquatic organisms currently living in and around the Everglades. The restoration of the water level and flow to the Everglades ecosystem could result in deeper water flowing through the system. The depth of the water is important because sunlight is the source of energy for primary producers such as plants and algae. If the water is too deep, there will not be enough sunlight reaching these organisms that grow on the bottom of the waterway. If aquatic plant life is affected, then the lives of the animals that depend on them for food and cover will also be impacted.
  • Organisms in the estuaries that the Everglades empty into rely on the water being slightly saline. If large quantities of freshwater flow out of the Everglades and into the estuaries, then life there may be severely impacted.
  • Aquatic organisms in the Everglades are adapted to life in a freshwater ecosystem. Most of them cannot survive in an estuarine or saltwater ecosystem. If the flow and level of water in the Everglades is restored using water from the ocean or gulf (see Restoration of Water Event Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Hydrosphere), the populations of aquatic organisms that currently live in the Everglades will decline.
  • A lot of the nation's winter produce comes from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Farmers in the EAA divert water from the Everglades to irrigate their fields. The restoration of water flow and level to the Everglades may be achieved by stopping the diversion of water from the wetlands. If they cannot use the Everglade water, where will they get water to irrigate their crops? This could have a serious impact on farmers and ultimately our economy. If their supply of water decreases, then their supply of crops will decrease. If the supply of crops decreases, then the market price will increase.
  • A more aquatic environment could lead to an increase in emergent plant species. These are plants that are rooted underwater in the soil, but extend above the water's surface. Examples include cattails, pickerelweed, arrowhead, and sedges.
  • A more aquatic environment could lead to an increase in submergent plant species. These are plants that live almost entirely underwater. Examples include milfoil, pondweeds, and water celery.
  • A more aquatic environment could lead to an increase in floaters. These are species of plants that float freely on the water's surface. Examples include duckweed and water hyacinth.
  • As the Everglades shrank, terrestrial animals like the Florida Panther slowly moved into the newly-dried land. If water is restored to these parts of the Everglades, then the terrestrial animals may have to retreat. Is it possible for them to migrate back to where they originally came from, or is that place now inhabited by humans? Landuse maps like the one in the Remote Sensing puzzle piece of this module show what land has been developed over the years.
  • Nutrients in agricultural runoff entering the Everglades have led to massive algal blooms and changed the composition of biological communities. For example, native sawgrass marshes have been replaced with ecosystems dominated by cattails, an exotic plant species .
  • Many microorganisms and plants in the biosphere filter toxins and excessive nutrients from the hydrosphere as water flows through the wetlands.
  • There is a gradient of salinity (saltiness) of the water that flows through southern Florida. Water in the Everglades is fresh; water flowing into Florida Bay is estuarine, or a mix of fresh and saltwater; water in the ocean is saline (salty). The aquatic organisms that inhabit these waterways have very specific salinity requirements. If the restoration of water flow through the Everglades dilutes the water in Florida Bay, many estuarine organisms may die.

Biosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere

  • Farmland will be covered by water.
  • Pines and other trees are rooted in the pockets of soil on hammocks (see Hydrosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere below). The Florida Panther lives in these pines.
  • Acids from decaying plants dissolve the limestone around hammocks or small islands, thus creating a natural moat. The moats hold some moisture during the dry season and protect the hammock plants from fire. The tall trees inside the hammock create a shaded wonderland, allowing small patches of sunlight to filter through the canopy. This environment provides the perfect growing atmosphere for ferns and air plants.
  • The male Florida Panther requires approximately 250 square miles of for its home range. The female Florida Panther requires a home range of only 70-200 square miles.

Hydrosphere Image of a gold double-sided arrow. Lithosphere

  • The terrain of the pinelands is dry, rough, and rugged. The elevation is approximately six feet (1.8 m) above sea level. Limestone bedrock extends above ground, where years of erosion by acidic waters have carved teardrop-shaped islands called hammocks. Throughout the jagged surfaces of the hammocks are solution holes containing small pockets of soil.
  • Fast-moving water erodes soil and rock, carrying them away toward the ocean, but slow-moving water--like in the Everglades--allows the soil, or sediment, it carries to fall to the bottom of the water channel. The sediment is often rich in nutrients. Nutrient-rich land in the Everglades was drained to provide fertile land for farming. The drained region set aside for farming is called the Everglades Agricultural Area.
  • Wetlands' hydric soils have been passively destroyed as a result of the flow of water into the wetlands being cut off.

Step 4: Present your findings
Prepare a report or presentation of your firm's predictions about the future of the Florida Panther based on your ESS analysis.

Predictions based on ESS Analysis:
The Florida Everglades is a large freshwater wetlands in southern Florida. The hydrosphere plays a key role in this type of ecosystem. Freshwater flows through the Everglades and into the Florida Bay where it mixes with saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean. The Everglades is relatively flat, so water flows slowly through the wetlands in a wide, shallow sheet. The sheet flow provides a large area for evaporation of water from its surface to the atmosphere. This large amount of evaporation causes the climate of the region to be humid.

The Everglades is a very important ecosystem. It provides habitat for many members of the biosphere. Most of these organisms are unique to wetlands because they have developed adaptations that require them to live in there. Wetlands plants and animals benefit the environment in many ways, including serving as food resources for some terrestrial, or land-based, organisms.

Wetlands plants also serve as environmental filters. They take up excessive nutrients and even heavy metals that may have entered the water from agricultural and industrial runoff. The Everglades plants filter much of these pollutants out of the water before they can reach the Florida Bay. In this way, the biosphere cleans the hydrosphere in the Everglades.

Removal of the Everglades through the active and passive removal of water has resulted in the decline in these benefits. It has become obvious that the biosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere of the Everglades are greatly affected by its hydrosphere. Many wetlands species have become endangered or even extinct as a result of the loss of their habitat.

Removal of water from the Everglades may have also caused changes in the Florida Bay ecosystem. As the flow of freshwater from the Everglades into the Bay decreases, the salt concentration of the water in the Bay increases. This increase in salinity negatively impacts the organisms living in the Bay because they have adapted to living in water with a certain salt concentration. If the salt concentration becomes too high, many of these organisms will die. This is another way in which changes in the Everglades' hydrosphere negatively affect the biosphere.

The various negative impacts of the removal of water from the Everglades have caused many private and public agencies to take action. One such action is the Everglades Forever Act of 1994. It provides for the restoration of the flow and level of water throughout the Florida Everglades. However, restoration of the natural flow and level of water may not be a realistic goal. Active restoration efforts may even result in more harm than good.

The natural inputs of water to the Everglades occur on regular cycles of wet and dry periods called hydroperiods. Hydroperiods are based on the cycle of water through the hydrosphere. This cycle is controlled by atmospheric and surface temperatures.

Systems of pipes, pumps, and dikes can be established by humans to release water to the Everglades on a regular schedule. However, this schedule will not necessarily be the same as that of the natural cycle of water through the hydrosphere. Also, restored water will be released from point sources, rather than across a large area the way water is naturally released. Such unrealistic timing and amounts of water delivery may result in the flooding of neighboring lands. The lithosphere around the Everglades may end up covered and unusable.

In addition, water naturally entering the Everglades comes from three sources: precipitation, overflow from rivers, and groundwater. These are freshwater sources that are generally not heavily polluted. There is an increased chance of pollution of the Everglades' hydrosphere if humans pipe water in from various reserves.

Because of the above-mentioned uncertainties surrounding the quantity and quality of water pumped into the Everglades by humans, there is no guarantee that wetland species will return to the area with the return of water. Therefore, altering the hydrosphere may not bring about any positive changes in the Everglades ecosystem.

The restoration of the flow and level of water through the Everglades may actually harm the ecosystem. The restoration plan calls for water discharged to the ocean or gulf to be captured in surface and underground storage areas where it will be stored until it is needed. This water will be saline, or salty. The restoration plan states that the water will be directed through wetlands-based stormwater treatment areas to remove excessive nutrients and other pollutants. There is no mention, however, of de-salinization treatment. The addition of saltwater to this freshwater ecosystem would destroy the wetlands plants that are currently there. It would also make the water unusable for animals that drink from these waterways.

There are many other complicating issues surrounding the restoration of the flow of water through the Everglades. For example, portions of the original Everglades lithosphere that have dried out over the years have become inhabited by terrestrial members of the biosphere. If water is restored to the Everglades, it may occur at such a high rate that terrestrial organisms may not be able to escape the rising water. These organisms may drown. Even if the water was restored slowly, it would soon cover their habitat. In addition, restored water may cover the food sources of terrestrial animals that live near the Everglades.

The Everglades Wildlife Refuge is worried that the restoration of the natural flow and level of water through the Everglades could harm the Florida Panther. The Florida Panther is an endangered species that once roamed throughout southern Florida. Because of increasing pressures by humans, the Panther has been forced to live along the edges of the Everglades. The animal has become trapped between the Everglades and human development.

The Everglades Wildlife Refuge asked our team of Earth system scientists to help them address their concern for the Florida Panther. They asked us to perform an Earth system science (ESS) analysis of the impacts of the restoration of the flow and level of water on the lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere of the Everglades' ecosystem. From this analysis, we made our predictions about the future of the Florida Panther.

Although the Florida Panther is not a wetlands animal, an ESS analysis of the restoration of the flow and level of water through the Everglades shows that this event would be harmful to the Panther. First, the event would impact the hydrosphere by increasing the amount of water in the system. This could lead to flooding. The hydrosphere would impact the lithosphere by covering the land that the Panther uses as its habitat. If the Panther has no place to live, it will become extinct. The causal chain for this reaction is written as E > H > L > B.

Another causal chain of reactions resulting from the restoration of the flow and level of water through the Everglades is E > H > B (> B). The proposed source of water for the restoration event is the ocean or gulf. As mentioned above, water from these sources is saline. The Everglades is a freshwater ecosystem. Adding water from the ocean or gulf to the Everglades would impact the wetlands' hydrosphere by increasing its salinity. Many wetlands plants and animals may not be able to use the saltwater. They may die from dehydration. The Panther relies on wetlands animals for prey. If these animals die from a lack of water, then the Panther will have no food. Without food, the Panther will become extinct.

Based on this ESS analysis, our team of Earth system scientists predicts that the restoration of the flow and level of water throughout the Everglades will be harmful to the Florida Panther. The event could lead to the extinction of this endangered species.

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Grade Level: 5-8

What are some hands-on activities?
For teachers who use hands-on activities along with minds-on activities to ensure that students grasp the concepts, visit these websites for a variety of activities:

The Fragile Fringe

BellNet: Case Study in Wetland Management

NWF: Animal Tracks - Wetlands Activities

The Wetlands Network

EPA Teacher Resource Center

EPA Wetlands

Athena: Learing About Wetlands

 

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Last updated April 28, 2005
   

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