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EFFECTS OF HURRICANE IRMA ON THE COASTAL FORESTS OF THE FLORIDA KEYS
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Hurricane Irma struck the National Key Deer Refuge (NKDR) on 10 September 2017, disturbing forested habitat used by endangered species across the refuge through high winds and storm surge flooding. By investigating the patterns of damage, I seek to inform habitat management decisions and mitigate the impacts of future storms. Landsat 8 images of pre and post storm conditions were used to detect changes in Tasseled Cap Wetness (TCW) and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values to analyze the severity and pattern of damage to upland forested areas and mangrove swamps in the NKDR. Freshwater availability was also assessed through in situ sampling of natural water hole salinity for several months following the storm. Reduction in TCW and NDVI values (P = <0.05) was identified in both forest classes directly following the storm. Upland forests showed evidence of recovery in June 2018 with a positive shift in NDVI values (P = <0.05) while mangrove swamps did not show a similar trend. The initial reduction in NDVI and TCW was likely a result of defoliation resulting from high winds and storm surge. Superficial damage to upland forests appeared to recover to some degree, whereas the coastal mangroves experienced more severe disturbance and had not indicated any significant recovery by June 2018. Additionally, high salinity concentrations in groundwater limited fresh water availability for several months after the storm. These findings provide a depiction of how hurricane disturbance impacts the forested areas of the lower Florida Keys and suggest the need for further investigation into the recovery of mangroves in the region.
Powers, Garrett Wayne (2019). EFFECTS OF HURRICANE IRMA ON THE COASTAL FORESTS OF THE FLORIDA KEYS. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from