Interactive Infographic: How Salt Transforms Coastal Forests
Interactive Infographic: How Salt Transforms Coastal Forests

Interactive Infographic: How Salt Transforms Coastal Forests

Rising sea levels are pushing salty tides and storm surges farther inland, leading to the forest death and a shift from forested habitats to marsh.

Ashley Yeager
Ashley Yeager
Mar 1, 2020

ABOVE: © KERRY HYNDMAN

Sea level rise is affecting a wide range of ecosystems, from forested wetland to farmland. As salty water pushes farther inland, with the help of humanmade structures such canals, ditches, and tide gates, trees die and farmland floods, allowing marshy reed species to move in. Forests can shift farther inland but as they do, they will eventually encounter towns, cities, and other communities that prevent their further migration. Click on the circles below to learn more about what happens to these ecosystems as sea levels rise. 

© KERRY HYNDMAN

Salt Kills Trees from the Roots Up

Most trees are extremely sensitive to salt, from the roots, which struggle to take up water from salty soils, to the trunk, branches, and leaves, where high concentrations of salt ions hinder plants’ cellular processes.

As salinity increases, it can shift the balance from the plant having a higher relative concentration of dissolved ions to the surrounding soil having a higher ion concentration. This makes it harder for the plant to take up water against this strong concentration gradient, leading to water stress that physiologically is quite similar to drought stress, even if there is plenty of water in the soil.
© KERRY HYNDMAN

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Ashley Yeager is an associate editor at The Scientist. Email her at ayeager@the-scientist.com.