ghost forests

North Carolina

The impact of climate change on our planet and its delicate balance is increasingly evident. Extensive scientific research has unequivocally demonstrated a rapid rise in average global temperatures in recent decades, accompanied by the alarming effects of melting glaciers, coral bleaching and several other indicators. These signs serve as a stark reminder that we are dangerously close to reaching the point of no return. One of the consequences of this situation is the appearance of ghost forests.

In this article we are going to tell you what ghost forests are, their characteristics and consequences.

Serious effects of climate change and the appearance of ghost forests

ghost forest apparition

The aforementioned effects do not provide us with the means to directly witness the resulting consequences, such as the proliferation of ghost forests, which are increasingly prevalent along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States.

When the salt water infiltrates forested regions that depend on fresh water, gives rise to ghost forests. The soil becomes saturated with high salinity, causing the gradual disappearance of mature trees and hindering the growth of younger ones, which struggle to fill the void left by their predecessors.

The once lush green landscape, characterized by thriving trees that played a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, It has now transformed into an area marked by large patches of fallen logs, splinters, and dead branches. On the contrary, a limited number of salt-tolerant shrub species are beginning to multiply.

Origin of the appearance of ghost forests

forests and climate change

According to ecologist Emiliy Ury, rapid sea level rise appears to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to increased humidity and salinity. The harmful impact of Extreme weather events, intensified by climate change, are further exacerbated by powerful storms, more frequent hurricanes, and prolonged droughts. Ury, who conducted an exhaustive analysis of satellite images provided by NASA, sheds light on the surprising appearance of ghost forests.

Ury says that in the last 35 years, a significant portion of the forested wetlands of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina has disappeared, which represents more than 10% of its total surface. This disappearance is particularly notable considering the refuge's status as a federal reserve free of human activity, highlighting the unequivocal impact of anthropogenic climate change on rising water levels.

The presence of ghost forests not only leads to the loss of ecosystems and the vital ecological services they provide, but also contributes to a cycle that exacerbates climate conditions. This occurs when evergreen trees, responsible for absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing its concentration in the atmosphere throughout the year, die due to the high salt content in the water.

Impacts in the United States

Surfers flock to Neskowin Beach, a famous spot in the United States. With its frigid Pacific waters, the waves are an irresistible call to get on a surfboard, and they rarely disappoint. However, As the tide goes out, attention shifts from the ocean. Curious cylindrical formations emerge from the muddy landscape that at first glance look like rocks. However, these are no ordinary stones; They are the fossilized remains of ancient trees, the haunting remains of a ghost forest.

Sitka spruce forests, a predominant feature in the state of Oregon, where Neskowin resides, are abundant. These imposing conifers, capable of reaching heights of 100 meters, They are native to the Pacific mountains of North America. Sitka spruce forests, which thrive in the region's humid coastal areas, do not extend far inland. It is therefore not surprising that the remains of the Neskowin ghost forest are mainly made up of these majestic trees.

In an event that occurred approximately two millennia ago, a stretch of coastline experienced a sudden and unexplained subsidence, sinking more than two meters. It is speculated that this event may have been caused by an earthquake or tsunami. As a result, Once-thriving forests were submerged in salt water and engulfed in mud. Over time, the vegetation perished, but its remains were preserved below the surface, protected from the deteriorating effects of oxygen. It was not until 1997, when a powerful storm arose, that these ancient remains were unearthed and exposed to the world once again.

The presence of the Neskowin Ghost Forest serves as a poignant reminder of a tumultuous era in the history of the northwest coast of the United States, characterized by frequent seismic activity. However, It's worth noting that ghost forests can arise through means other than tectonic shifts. Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of climate change may contribute to its proliferation in the future.

According to NOAA, these formations arise when salt water infiltrates a forest, either above ground or underground, causing the soil and aquifers to become saline. The trees, which depend on fresh water to survive, begin to wither, gradually poisoned by salt. numerous trees They remain upright, lifeless, and the decomposition process slows down, giving rise to a horrifying spectacle. It serves as a haunting reminder of a forest that will never be revived.

Saltwater intrusion into coastal areas can be attributed to tectonic activity, as exemplified by the events that occurred at Neskowin 2.000 years ago (a detailed explanation of this process can be found in the attached video). However, the expansion of ghost forests has become more frequent in recent years due to the combination of sea level rise and the effects of climate change. This problem is not limited to Oregon, but is also a notorious problem on the East Coast of the United States, thousands of miles away.

Salinization of coastal spaces

ghost forests

Salinization is causing detrimental impacts on coastal forests along the East Coast, which stretches from North Carolina to Massachusetts and encompasses states such as Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey. The intrusion of Atlantic waters into these lands is an ongoing problem, and a recent study by the Climate Institute at Rutgers University and the United States Department of Agriculture predicts that this phenomenon will occur with increasing frequency in the future.

On the northeast coast of the country there are forests consisting of a combination of deciduous and evergreen trees. These forests create a diverse ecosystem that provides refuge for endangered flora and fauna, while also acting as a vital carbon store. Besides, They are carefully managed to meet the demands of the timber industry. Additionally, these forests serve as a crucial natural defense against the destructive forces of storms.

The survival of these coastal areas is now threatened due to rising sea levels. Throughout the last century, The global average rise in sea level has been 21 centimeters. However, in certain regions and during certain events, the increase is significantly higher. A good example is the occurrence of storm surges, which cause coastal flooding due to powerful storms. During these events, sea level can rise by several meters, as demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina, which caused a rise of more than eight meters in the Mississippi Delta.

Gradual sea level rise not only leads to specific events that flood coastal forests with salt water, but also has a secondary effect: the gradual intrusion of salt water into groundwater. As sea level rises, the mixing of fresh subsurface water with salt water becomes more frequent, resulting in gradual salinization of the soil.

With the encroachment of salt water into coastal ecosystems, the natural vegetation that once thrived in these areas is disappearing. These plants and trees, if given the chance, move inland, leaving behind eerie ghost forests and releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. However, this void also It can be filled with plants specifically adapted to saline environments, such as marsh vegetation.

In the last two decades, this phenomenon has become more pronounced. In certain regions, such as Alligator River National Park in North Carolina, More than 10% of once-thriving forests have disappeared. While the eastern coast of the United States appears to bear the brunt of the impact caused by sea level rise, evidence of this process has also emerged in several other corners of the world.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about the causes of the appearance of ghost forests and their possible consequences.

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