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Oct 27, 2015 2:34 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Ghostly Findings On The Shores Of Montauk Garner Attention

Larry Liddle examines an Atlantic white cedar tree trunk melded into the shore of Montauk Point. ERIC LAMONT, COURTESY OF THE LONG ISLAND BOTANICAL SOCIETY
Oct 27, 2015 3:52 PM

It’s no secret that Montauk Point has fallen victim to major coastal erosion since its lighthouse was built to overlook the Atlantic Ocean in 1796.According to a 2015 geographical survey conducted by the U.S Department of Interior, the lighthouse was originally 300 feet inland. Today, after more than 200 years of rising sea levels, around 50 feet of hilltop space remains.

While the sea is creeping up on the famed structure, it is also submerging plant life on the coast—particularly a forest of Atlantic white cedar trees. The phenomenon, along with other natural occurrences, has created what is known as a “ghost forest.”

Eric Lamont, president of the Long Island Botanical Society, first happened upon the Montauk ghost forest when he was birdwatching with a group at Montauk Point in the early 1980s. At low tide, the group could see stumps sticking out of the shallow water. Top birder Gil Raynor was in attendance, Mr. Lamont said, and immediately recognized them as Atlantic white cedar trees.

State Assemblyman Steven Englebright also came across the remains of the Montauk ghost forest while teaching at Stony Brook University more than 25 years ago. He found chunks of peat, partially decayed vegetation or organic matter, that washed ashore, according to an article entitled “Rediscovering Ancient ‘Ghost Forests’ on Eastern Long Island, New York,” printed in the Long Island Botanical Society’s fall 2011 newsletter, written by Mr. Englebright and Mr. Lamont.

Mr. Englebright discovered tree trunk remains in the peat that were positively identified as Atlantic white cedar. After a radiocarbon dating process conducted at a Stony Brook lab, the remnants were dated as 4,700 years old—give or take three centuries.

“This discovery prompts our attempt to reconstruct the geological and ecological history of Montauk Point beginning approximately 4,500 years ago,” the article said.

The article caught the eye of Jessie Pearl, a Ph.D. graduate student associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, now located at the University of Arizona. Early this year, she reached out to Mr. Lamont, explaining that she was part of a group researching the Atlantic white cedar swamps on the Atlantic coast in regard to climate change. She said the swamps are located in depressions of glacial outwash sediment, sand and gravel “washed out” from a glacier, which make up many coastal features in the Northeast.

“With steady sea level rise and alongshore transport of sediment, some swamps ‘naturally’ fall into the ocean as the landscape changes by ocean currents over time,” said Ms. Pearl.

She said other swamps can be “catastrophically” flooded with sea water from hurricane activity, causing the forests to die communally with an influx of salt water. “These dead forests will often also be exposed at the coast over time and with frequent flooding by storms,” Ms. Pearl said. “I am trying to develop an understanding on when and how they were drowned, identifying aspects of the ‘ghost forest’ climate and ecology, and generalized trends down the northeastern coastline.”

To aid their research, Mr. Lamont sent her a wood sample from the Montauk ghost forest he gathered with Dr. Larry Liddle, professor emeritus of marine science at Southampton College, on August 30, 2011—mere days after Hurricane Irene rattled the East Coast.

“We timed it very carefully,” said Mr. Lamont. “For many years, you could see tree stumps covered with sediments. When we went after the big storm, the sediments were washed out and the stumps were exposed, so we took a sample.”

Although Ms. Pearl said she has yet to visit the Montauk ghost forest, she said she is working with Mr. Lamont on wood sample identification and radiocarbon dating of samples. She said she plans to travel to Montauk in 2016.

“They’re interested in this ancient white cedar stump, excavated off the coast of Montauk,” said Mr. Lamont. “Using the data for climate change is fascinating and another facet of this ancient forest.”

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Attn: Editor

Reporting like this is lazy and dangerous and is precisely why we can not have a substantive conversation about the real issues of global warming and sea level rise.

Please provide supporting citation for this statement in this story:

"Today, after more than 200 years of rising sea levels, around 50 feet of hilltop space remains."

Really rising sea levels are responsible for the loss of 250 ft of coastline in Montauk?

Or is the loss of the ...more
By circaWHB (9), Westhampton Beach on Oct 29, 15 1:20 PM
this isnt sea level rise its called erosion..
By JMKG228 (12), Southampton on Nov 3, 15 2:10 PM