Extreme Temperature Diary- Saturday April 18th, 2021/ Main Topic: One Of The First Effects Of Sea Level Rise…Ghost Forests

The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track planetary extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Main Topic: One Of The First Effects Of Sea Level Rise…Ghost Forests

Dear Diary. It makes biological sense that as sea level rises salt water will encroach upon coastlines in which flora hasn’t had to deal with salt water in thousands of years. As salt water interacts with ground water in place near the coasts some plants, including trees, can’t cope with new chemistry and die. Salt water is moving inland by a few miles in some instance as of 2021, leaving wide stretches of coastline with dead and dying trees. Here is a Desdemona Despair article describing in detail this new unfortunate phenomenon occurring across the planet…the “ghost forest:”

Deer photographed by a remote camera on 11 August 2020 in a forest destroyed by climate change in North Carolina. Sea level rise and saltwater intrusion are killing trees en masse, causing ghost forests. Photo: Emily Ury

Deer photographed by a remote camera on 11 August 2020 in a forest destroyed by climate change in North Carolina. Sea level rise and saltwater intrusion are killing trees en masse, causing ghost forests. Photo: Emily Ury

By Emily Ury
6 April 2021

(The Conversation) – Trekking out to my research sites near North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, I slog through knee-deep water on a section of trail that is completely submerged. Permanent flooding has become commonplace on this low-lying peninsula, nestled behind North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The trees growing in the water are small and stunted. Many are dead.

Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch I pass while driving around the region is lined with dead or dying trees.

As an ecologist studying wetland response to sea level rise, I know this flooding is evidence that climate change is altering landscapes along the Atlantic coast. It’s emblematic of environmental changes that also threaten wildlife, ecosystems, and local farms and forestry businesses.

Like all living organisms, trees die. But what is happening here is not normal. Large patches of trees are dying simultaneously, and saplings aren’t growing to take their place. And it’s not just a local issue: Seawater is raising salt levels in coastal woodlands along the entire Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Maine to Florida. Huge swaths of contiguous forest are dying. They’re now known in the scientific community as “ghost forests.”

Satellite view of a healthy forest on the right and a ghost forest with many dead trees on the left. Photo: Emily Ury / Google Earth

Satellite view of a healthy forest on the right and a ghost forest with many dead trees on the left. Photo: Emily Ury / Google Earth

The insidious role of salt

Sea level rise driven by climate change is making wetlands wetter in many parts of the world. It’s also making them saltier.

In 2016 I began working in a forested North Carolina wetland to study the effect of salt on its plants and soils. Every couple of months, I suit up in heavy rubber waders and a mesh shirt for protection from biting insects, and haul over 100 pounds of salt and other equipment out along the flooded trail to my research site. We are salting an area about the size of a tennis court, seeking to mimic the effects of sea level rise.

After two years of effort, the salt didn’t seem to be affecting the plants or soil processes that we were monitoring. I realized that instead of waiting around for our experimental salt to slowly kill these trees, the question I needed to answer was how many trees had already died, and how much more wetland area was vulnerable. To find answers, I had to go to sites where the trees were already dead.

Rising seas are inundating North Carolina’s coast, and saltwater is seeping into wetland soils. Salts move through groundwater during phases when freshwater is depleted, such as during droughts. Saltwater also moves through canals and ditches, penetrating inland with help from wind and high tides. Dead trees with pale trunks, devoid of leaves and limbs, are a telltale sign of high salt levels in the soil. A 2019 report called them “wooden tombstones.”

Habitat maps created for North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge showing the change over time as sea level rise kills trees en masse and causes ghost forests. Graphic: Ury, et al., 2021

Habitat maps created for North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge showing the change over time as sea level rise kills trees en masse and causes ghost forests. Graphic: Ury, et al., 2021

As the trees die, more salt-tolerant shrubs and grasses move in to take their place. In a newly published study that I coauthored with Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright at Duke University and Xi Yang at the University of Virginia, we show that in North Carolina this shift has been dramatic.

The state’s coastal region has suffered a rapid and widespread loss of forest, with cascading impacts on wildlife, including the endangered red wolf and red-cockaded woodpecker. Wetland forests sequester and store large quantities of carbon, so forest die-offs also contribute to further climate change. [more]

Sea level rise is killing trees along the Atlantic coast, creating ‘ghost forests’ that are visible from space

Here is more climate and weather news from Sunday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”

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