Barbara Purdy: Florida's aquifer was the work of five millennia
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.
From approximately 18,000 years ago until about 12,000 years ago (give or take a couple of thousand years), worldwide sea level was 300 feet lower than today because the water was needed to maintain glaciers during the last Ice Age.
The Florida peninsula at that time was part of a broad coastal plain with a shoreline that nearly doubled the state's land area. While this information might excite Realtors, the bad news is that sea level changes affect the groundwater level for considerable distances inland from the coast, because Florida has an intimate relationship with the sea.
People who ventured into Florida 12,000 years ago found no springs, lakes or rivers. Their search for water was limited to a few passive ponds or sinkholes and, occasionally, perched water resulting from rainfall.
The Ice Age ended quite rapidly around 12,000 years ago, and one would assume that the terrain would get “back to normal” just as rapidly.
But this did not happen.
The archaeological and environmental records in Florida demonstrate that modern ecological conditions did not begin to emerge until 6,000-7,000 years ago. It took more than 5,000 years for the aquifer to fill, the vegetation to rebound, and for people to begin to live here in settled communities.
Industry is doing to Florida's springs and other water sources today what Mother Nature accomplished 18,000 years ago.
The excellent recent Speaking Outs in The Gainesville Sun by Robert L. Knight, director of the Florida Springs Institute, and the investigative article from the Tampa Bay Times (Sun, 12-26) prompted me to make this comparison. But I do not think the mammoths — and their human followers who visited Florida thousands of years ago seeking the Fountain of Youth — caused nitrate pollution problems that exist today.
Barbara A. Purdy is professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Florida.