Dendrochronology of Coastal Forests to Evaluate Impacts of Wind and Surge from Hurricane Sandy

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The science of dating growth rings and history of live and fossil wood samples is called dendrochronology. This technique is valuable for conducting climate reconstructions where meteorological data is lacking and for detecting past disturbance events such as tropical storms and hurricanes.

Tree core collections of surviving trees were conducted in the landfall zone of Hurricane Sandy

Tree core collections of surviving trees were conducted in the landfall zone of Hurricane Sandy.

The Science Issue and Relevance: The science of dating growth rings and history of live and fossil wood samples is called dendrochronology. This technique is valuable for conducting climate reconstructions where meteorological data is lacking and for detecting past disturbance events such as tropical storms and hurricanes. Hurricane winds physically damage or down trees, and surge overwash saturates soils with saltwater that can impact subsequent root growth and tree survival because of salinity intolerance. Tree rings provide evidence of growth reductions or releases whose timing and variance may be indicative of past hurricane occurrence and degree of impact. Long-term growth records can be used to construct a chronology of past storm events and grade storm intensity. Park and refuge managers require this information to understand past storm frequency and ecosystem vulnerability as it relates to habitat management and to guide decisions about forest recovery, research, and restoration.  

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Ground and aerial surveys were conducted to catalog the expression and extent of forest damage of coastal parks and refuges along the East Coast following Hurricane Sandy. Tree core collections of surviving trees were conducted in the landfall zone of Hurricane Sandy from high impact sites at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia and E. B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey where forest damage was most extensive. Tree ring analysis was used to detect forest health decline and growth inflections coincident with Sandy occurrence. Tree ring chronologies demonstrated divergent growth response from low and high elevation tree stands which appear related to saltwater impacts of storm surge inundation. 

Tree ring analysis was used to detect forest health decline and growth inflections coincident with Sandy occurrence.

Tree ring analysis was used to detect forest health decline and growth inflections coincident with Hurricane Sandy occurrence.

Future Steps: The project will produce an understanding of the interaction of storm surge tides on residual soil salinities and inundation that can be applied in explicit landscape simulation models to improve predictive modeling of future ecosystem consequences under climate change and increasing hurricane frequency and intensity.

Additional Related Products:

  • Doyle, T.W., Conner, W.H., Ratard, M., and Inabinette, L.W.  2007.  Assessing the impact of tidal flooding and salinity on long-term growth of baldcypress under changing climate and riverflow. Ch. 15, In:  Conner, W.H., Doyle, T.W, and Krauss, K.W. (eds.), Ecology of Tidal Freshwater Forested Wetlands of the Southeastern United States, Springer, NY, pp. 411-446.