The impact of extreme storm surges on Mid-Atlantic coastal forests
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The Mid-Atlantic coastal forests in Virginia are stressed by episodic disturbance from storms associated with hurricanes and nor'easters. Using annual tree ring data, we adopt a dendroclimatic and statistical modelling approach to understand the response and resilience of a coastal pine forest to slow progressive climate change and extreme storm surge events. Results indicate that radial growth of trees in the study area is influenced by age, vigor, competition, microsite variability, and regional climatic trends, but dominated periodically by disturbance due to storm surges. We evaluated seven local storm surge events to understand the effect of storm surges associated with nor'easters and hurricanes on radial growth. A general decline in radial growth was observed in the year of the storm and three years following it, after which the radial growth starts recovering. Given the projected increase in hurricanes and storm surge severity with changing global climate, this study contributes to understanding declining tree growth response and resilience of coastal forests to past disturbances. This can help predict vegetation response patterns to similar disturbances in the future.
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