The objectives of GCE research are:
- to document long-term patterns of environmental forcing to the coastal zone,
- to link environmental forcing to observed spatial and temporal patterns of biogeochemical processes, primary production, community dynamics, decomposition and disturbance,
- to investigate the underlying mechanisms by which environmental gradients along the longitudinal (freshwater-saltwater) and
- lateral (upland-subtidal) axes of estuaries drive ecosystem change, and
- to explore the relative importance of larval transport and the conditions of the adult environment in determining community and genetic structure across both the longitudinal and vertical gradients of the estuary.
The Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE) LTER site, located on the central Georgia coast, was established in 2000. The study domain encompasses three adjacent sounds (Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo) and includes upland (mainland, barrier islands, marsh hammocks), intertidal (fresh, brackish and salt marsh) and submerged (river, estuary, continental shelf) habitats.
University of Georgia Marine Institute studies of the Sapelo Island marshes began in 1954 and have resulted in over 900 publications. These publications, Georgia Rivers LMER data from 1995-2000, long-term Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve monitoring records, and aerial photographs dating back to 1954 provide a perspective on long-term changes in the system and will help in interpreting data collected over the course of the GCE-LTER project.