Monitoring the Everglades

Landsat satellite data are proving important to resource managers monitoring one of the Nation's most fragile ecosystems. 

The largest tract of wilderness east of the Rocky Mountains is located in south Florida within the Everglades National Park. From a biological perspective, it is home to some of the most rare and endangered species in the U.S.: the West Indian manatee, the American crocodile, and more than a dozen others. It is one of the most significant corridors and stopovers for migrating species. And it is home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. 

The Everglades also plays a crucial role in the lives of Florida's human residents. It provides water supplies vital to millions of domestic users, businesses, and farms. It also helps sustain livelihoods by providing fertile croplands and pastures for livestock grazing, as well as recreational opportunities that draw millions of tourists. 

As Florida's human population has grown, the strain on the Everglades has increased. Land has been drained, paved over and plowed under; water supplies have been diverted and polluted. In addition to the direct threats to wildlife posed by these human activities, climate change poses a significant new challenge. 

Urban development, increased recreation demands, storms, and hurricanes have all challenged the ecosystem of the Everglades. In 2000 Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project. 

The project, the largest restoration project in American history, will include purchasing of land (over 207,000 acres to date,) establishing large-scale aquifer storage systems, and developing treatment marshes and water flow channels. 

A critical tool in the project is the access to Landsat data. Landsat data provide a record of conditions at a particular time and, as land conditions change, project leaders will use Landsat data to monitor anthropogenic and natural alterations. Five Landsat scenes for each time period were mosaicked to illustrate the location, conditions, and synoptic perspective of the south Florida and Everglades region. Comparing the 1986/1987 mosaic data and the 2010/2011 data allows the project staff to evaluate the gradual change in the fragile system of the Everglades.

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