OSU scientists unlock secrets of Coast's 'ghost forest'

OSU scientists unlock secrets of Coast's 'ghost forest'

Credit: Photo by kgw.com viewer Kim DeSau

As the beach is washed away, more of the ancient forest is revealed.




Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:34 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 25 at 10:18 AM

NEWSKOWIN BEACH, Ore. - A ghost forest recently uncovered along the Coast is giving Oregon State University students a rare glimpse into our past climate and possibly our future.

It's a unique opportunity to study a piece of history that's been perfectly preserved for thousands of years.

It's come to be known as the "ghost forest" -- twisted chunks of wood emerging from the sand along Newskowin Beach. They are ancient remnants of a forest that dates back thousands of years. Powerful storms this winter washed away the sand and exposed the tree stumps peaking the curiosity of not only tourists, but also scientists.

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"To find wood in this condition that can be two thousand years can be extremely rare," said Harold Zald. Zald is one of several of graduate students in OSU's forestry department studying samples of the ancient trees to learn more about Oregon's past climate.

"Understanding the past is one of the big keys to understanding the future with climate," explained Zald. In July the grad students got permission from the state to take three samples from the once buried forest and study the tree rings that date back more than 2,000 years.

"The variation in growth of each ring tells you the variation of was it warmer or colder," said Zald

They hope to answer questions such as: Did the Pacific Northwest go through periods of drought and if so is there a cycle that could repeat itself?

"How would that impact our water resources, hydroelectric power, salmon fisheries, forest fires," said Zald. He says the stumps could be a critical piece in solving the climate change puzzle.

Knowing what happened in the past will help better plan for our future.

The grad students also hope to learn what killed the trees like, for example, if it was an earthquake.

The research will likely take two years to complete.