Global Warming

Sea Level Rise Is Killing Trees Along the US Atlantic Coast

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

Throughout coastal North Carolina, evidence of forest die-off is everywhere. Nearly every roadside ditch is lined with dead or dying trees. 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.

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.” Rapid sea level rise seems to be outpacing the ability of these forests to adapt to wetter, saltier conditions. Extreme weather events, fueled by climate change, are causing further damage from heavy storms, more frequent hurricanes and drought.

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