Along the Gulf Coast of Florida north of Tampa Bay lies a region characterized by an open marsh coast, low topographic gradient, water-bearing limestone, and scattered springs. The Floridan aquifer system is at or near land surface in this region, discharging water at a consistent 70-72°F. The thermal contrast between ambient water and aquifer discharge during winter months can be distinguished using airborne thermal-infrared imagery. An airborne thermal-infrared mapping system was used to collect imagery along 126 miles of the Gulf Coast from Jefferson to Levy County, FL, in March 2009. The imagery depicts a large number of discharge locations and associated warm-water plumes in ponds, creeks, rivers, and nearshore waters. A thermal contrast of 6°F or more was set as a conservative threshold for identifying sites, statistically significant at the 99% confidence interval. Almost 900 such coastal and submarine-discharge locations were detected, averaging seven to nine per mile along this section of coast. This represents approximately one hundred times the number of previously known discharge sites in the same area. Several known coastal springs in Taylor and Levy Counties were positively identified with the imagery and were used to estimate regional discharge equivalent to one 1st-order spring, discharging 100 cubic feet per second or more, for every two miles of coastline. The number of identified discharge sites is a conservative estimate and may represent two-thirds of existing features due to low groundwater levels at time of overflight. The role of aquifer discharge in coastal and estuarine health is indisputable; however, mapping and quantifying discharge in a complex karst environment can be an elusive goal. The results of this effort illustrate the effectiveness of the instrument and underscore the influence of coastal springs along this stretch of the Florida coast.
Detection of coastal and submarine discharge on the Florida Gulf Coast with an airborne thermal-infrared mapping system
Ellen Raabe, David Stonehouse, Kristin Ebersol, Kathryn Holland, Lisa Robbins