The gray, barren dead trees that dot the coastal regions of many parts of the world are the immediate consequences of rising sea levels. Climate change brings more threats in the form of coastal erosion, frequent hurricanes and storms. droughts, things can only get worse for coastal vegetation.

Scientists at Duke University and the University of Virginia recently documented how rising sea levels are triggering forest loss in coastal areas. While studying vegetation in North Carolina, they discover that rising seas are flooding the state’s coast and salt water is seeping further into the land and wetlands. This salt kills huge swathes of contiguous forests, which the scientific community calls “ghost forests”. Using satellite images, they showed that more than 10% of the forested wetlands in the Alligator River National Wildlife Area in North Carolina have been lost in the past 35 years. They point out that widespread forest loss has a cascading impact on wildlife. Ghost forests have also been observed in other parts of the world. What is sea level rise and how does it create ghost forests? Let’s find out…

What is sea level rise?

Sea level rise is an increase in the level of the world’s oceans due to the effects of global warming. The rise in sea level is linked to two main factors …

Thermal expansion:

The oceans absorb over 90% of the increased atmospheric heat associated with greenhouse gas emissions. When water heats up, it expands. Ocean water expands and takes up more space. This is called thermal expansion and is responsible for a third of sea level rise.

Impact of sea level rise

  • The impact of sea level rise includes flooding, habitat destruction, soil erosion and the disappearance of low-lying islands. Rising sea levels also make storm surges likely to cause much greater damage. (Storm surge is the abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm. Storm surge can penetrate well inland.) Higher sea levels coincide with more hurricanes, contributing to stronger storm surges that can wash away anything in their path.
  • Many birds use coastal ecosystems to find food, live and reproduce. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches and return to the same place every year. When beaches erode, these animals and birds will be affected.
  • Rising sea levels will result in the displacement of people. It could create 187 million climate refugees by 2100, according to a study.

Melting glaciers and ice caps:

Warmer temperatures cause land ice such as glaciers and ice caps to melt, and meltwater flows into the ocean to raise sea levels. sea ​​level rise.

In 2019, a study predicted that in the low-emission scenario, the sea level will rise 30 cm by 2050 and 69 cm by 2100. In the high-emission scenario, it will be 34 cm. here 2050 and 111 cm by 2100.

About ghost forests

Rising seas often evoke the threat to distant and low-lying nations, coastal cities or island states in the future. But the point is, the effects are already being felt by the coastal vegetation. Ghost forests, which are landscapes filled with dead ghost trees, are the immediate consequences of rising sea levels. These leafless, limb trees can last for decades in this barren, parched state.

Sea level rise connection

Rising sea levels increase the risk of saltwater intrusion. It is the flow of seawater in wetlands and rivers. As the sea level rises, more and more salt water encroaches on the land and exceeds the fresh water that trees depend on for their livelihoods. Salt water slowly poisons the trees and eventually kills them. (Dead trees with pale trunks are a telltale sign of high levels of salt in the soil.)

The rising salt water also leaves the soil unsanitary and forests unsuitable for new growth. What scientists are finding is that while large patches of trees die simultaneously, saplings of the same species fail to sprout to take their place. Instead, more salt tolerant shrubs and grasses are moving to take their place.

Scientists also note that extreme weather events, fueled by climate change, cause additional damage to vegetation in the form of severe storms, more frequent hurricanes and droughts. This causes massive tree deaths in coastal areas.