Scientists study hurricane impacts on coastal forests

Scientists study hurricane impacts on coastal forests

GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) - The Grand Strand's coastal forests play an important role both in the local environment as well as South Carolina's economy.

So, how do extreme weather events like hurricanes impact the essential part of the area's livelihood?

For months after Hurricane Matthew, at Clemson University's Baruch institute for Coastal Ecology and Forestry Science, Dr. Tom O'Halloran and his research team have scoured the damage to the marshes and trees by land, sea and air.

Their main concern for the trees is not the wind, but the storm surge.

"That ocean water that is blown in by the wind, if it gets deep enough into the forest that can raise the salinity of the soil and actually be lethal to the trees," O'Halloran said.

His team's research hopes to not only see the impacts of Matthew's surge, but also add in potential environmental factors.

"If that water is getting a little bit higher since the last time, that water is going to push farther and farther into the forest," O'Halloran said. "There's definitely the potential for storm surge to be an important element of hurricane impacts on coastal forests."

O'Halloran's team is also still following long-term research on forest impacts from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Now, they are armed with the latest technology, including drones, to study the health of the trees from above.

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