Rising sea levels are poisoning North Carolina forests, causing ‘ghost forests’ near coasts

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Rising sea levels are transforming the once lush coastal forests of North Carolina into grayish-colored, lifeless tribes known as ‘ghost forests’.

The leafless, limbless trees cover about 11 percent of the state’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge that once thrived with healthy forests.

The change is caused by massive amounts of seawater creeping inland and poisoning living trees, slowly dying, leaving nothing but lifeless wood.

Researchers led by Duke University found that between 1900 and 2000, sea levels rose about 12 inches around the protected park, faster than the global average, and is expected to rise another 60 to 1.5 meters by the end of this century.

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Rising sea levels are transforming the once lush coastal forests of North Carolina into lifeless tribes known as “ ghost forests. ” The leafless, limbless trees stretch for 11 percent (shown in red) of the state’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge

Ghost forests invade coastal regions around the world, but researchers say they are especially visible in North America, with hundreds of thousands of acres of salt-killed trees stretching from Canada along the east coast, around Florida to Texas.

Emily Ury, who recently earned a biology doctorate from Duke University, shared the first time she saw North Carolina’s haunting landscape.

‘I was like,’ Whoa. ‘No leaves; no branches. The trees were literally just trunks. As far as the eye could see, ”said Ury.

She is one of the experts investigating the 245,000 hectare area on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula, which has used 35 years of satellite imagery to reveal the extent of these haunted forests.

The change is caused by massive amounts of seawater creeping inland poison living trees, slowly dying, leaving nothing but lifeless wood

The change is caused by massive amounts of sea water creeping inland poison living trees, slowly dying, leaving nothing but lifeless wood

The change is caused by massive amounts of sea water creeping inland poison living trees, slowly dying, leaving nothing but lifeless wood

The team mapped the spread of ghost forests over the 35-year period using images taken by Landsat satellites orbiting 430 miles above the surface.

The team mapped the spread of ghost forests over the 35-year period using images taken by Landsat satellites orbiting 430 miles above the surface.

The team mapped the spread of ghost forests over the 35-year period using images taken by Landsat satellites orbiting 430 miles above the surface.

The data shows that from 1985 to 2019, 11 percent of forests were inundated by ghost forests.

The team suggests that most of the spread was caused by hurricanes and droughts that have plagued the region for decades.

However, researchers looked at the protected Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

This park was established in 1984 to protect the area’s forested wetlands and the endangered red wolves, red-capped woodpeckers, and other wildlife that call it home.

Satellite images show that sea levels rose about a foot from 1900 to 2000, bringing waves of salt water ashore that replaced fresh water that trees depend on for their livelihoods.

Rising sea levels are usually associated with shrinking coastlines, but before the beachfront properties disappear, seawater slowly creeps into low-lying landscapes.

Pixels in the satellite images represent an area of ​​the ground about the size of a baseball diamond.  The images were then fed into an algorithm that could determine whether an area was thriving with living forests or dead trees

Pixels in the satellite images represent an area of ​​the ground about the size of a baseball diamond.  The images were then fed into an algorithm that could determine whether an area was thriving with living forests or dead trees

Pixels in the satellite images represent an area of ​​the ground about the size of a baseball diamond. The images were then fed into an algorithm that could determine whether an area was thriving with living forests or dead trees

Most of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is less than two feet above sea level, “which makes it all the more vulnerable to sea level rise,” Ury said.

The team mapped the spread of ghost forests over the 35-year period using images taken by Landsat satellites orbiting 430 miles above the surface.

Pixels in the satellite images represent an area of ​​the ground about the size of a baseball diamond.

The images were then fed into an algorithm that could determine whether an area was thriving with living forests or dead trees.

Every pixel with as many as 20 to 40 visibly dead trees at the same time was labeled a ghost forest.

Researcher showed that in 1985 more than three quarters of the study area was covered with trees.

More than half of these losses occurred inland from the shelter, more than a mile from any coast, the study revealed.  Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the right and a haunted forest with many dead trees on the left

More than half of these losses occurred in the interior of the refuge, more than a kilometer from any coast, the study revealed.  Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the right and a haunted forest with many dead trees on the left

More than half of these losses occurred inland from the shelter, more than a mile from any coast, the study revealed. Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the right and a haunted forest with many dead trees on the left

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (pictured) was established in 1984 to protect the area's forested wetlands and the endangered red wolves, red-capped woodpeckers, and other wildlife that call it home.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (pictured) was established in 1984 to protect the area's forested wetlands and the endangered red wolves, red-capped woodpeckers, and other wildlife that call it home.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (pictured) was established in 1984 to protect the area’s forested wetlands and the endangered red wolves, red-capped woodpeckers, and other wildlife that call it home.

Since then, even without any logging or development, the refuge has lost more than 46,950 hectares of forest, or a quarter of its total trees in 1985.

More than half of these losses occurred in the interior of the refuge, more than a kilometer from any coast, the study revealed.

“It’s not just the bangs that get wetter,” said Ury.

Of the more than 21,000 hectares of haunted forests that emerged between 1985 and 2019, the most notable was in 2012.

This area was hit by a five-year extreme drought and battered by Hurricane Irene in 2011, which landed a six-foot wave of seawater.

“Because of its geological location, North Carolina is just ahead of other coastal areas in terms of how far sea level rise has progressed,” Ury said.

Lessons learned here can help manage similar transitions in other places or point out areas that are likely to be vulnerable in the future.