What is a ghost forest?

A ghost forest is the watery remains of a once verdant woodland.

a maritime forest

A ghost forest on Capers Island, South Carolina.

As sea level rises, more and more saltwater encroaches on the land. Along the world’s coasts and estuaries, invading seawater advances and overtakes the fresh water that deciduous trees rely upon for sustenance. The salty water slowly poisons living trees, leaving a haunted ghost forest of dead and dying timber. Still standing in or near brackish water, the decaying trees of a ghost forest resemble giant graying pillars that protrude into the air.

Researchers report that the rapid increase in ghost forests represents a dramatic visual picture of environmental changes along coastal plains located at or near sea level. In many areas, rising sea levels combine with land sinking from the last ice age, as is currently happening in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Mississippi Delta region of Louisiana is undergoing changes due to rising waters, the sinking of Earth's crust, and sediments compacting along the Mississippi River. With land and water constantly shifting, woodlands die and are buried in open water. This is apparent along North Carolina’s maritime forests, where only a glimpse of once peaceful and verdant groves, now ghost forests, remain.

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You can view a map of sea level trends in North America and Europe. To learn more about sea level rise, see NOAA’s Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States (2017).


Last updated: 10/26/17
Author: NOAA
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