By Tony Barteleme
Turbocharged by a warming climate, rain bombs and rising seas swamped the South Carolina Lowcountry this year, sending murky floodwaters into streets, businesses and homes.
At the same time, developers continue to transform forests and wetlands into even more homes and shopping centers — destroying acres and acres of spongy land that could help sop up these rising waters.
A new analysis requested by The Post and Courier for the Rising Waters project shows how the Charleston area’s unprecedented building boom made us more vulnerable amid the accelerating forces of climate change.
Researchers at the College of Charleston’s Lowcountry Hazards Center used advanced satellite and aerial imagery to measure changes in the area’s tree canopy — a key measure of the land’s ability to naturally manage flooding rains.
What emerged is among the most nuanced looks yet at how our land has changed in recent decades, a powerful new tool for residents and planners alike.
By Jennifer Moore Myers
In 1989, South Carolina’s Francis Marion National Forest lost close to a third of its pine and hardwood trees to Hurricane Hugo. USDA Forest Service land managers have spent the last thirty years recovering from that disturbance and working to meet the state’s growing needs for clean water, forest products, recreation areas, and wildlife habitat.
To that end, the Francis Marion adopted a new forest plan in 2017 focused upon restoring longleaf pine, the once-dominant southern species, across 33,000 acres of national forest lands.
This goal and the management work to implement it are based on a body of experimental research about forest ecology and hydrology — much of it conducted on the Santee Experimental Forest.
The Santee sits on the west side of the Francis Marion. Established in 1937, it’s a 6,100-acre living laboratory that has hosted many long-term studies on the effects of fire, hurricanes, and forest management practices on tree growth, streamflow, and wildlife communities.
SRS scientists and national forest managers have teamed up to study the impacts of replacing existing loblolly pine stands with longleaf pine.
Earlier, fine-scale studies suggest that water yield from longleaf pine landscapes may be greater than that from loblolly pine or mixed pine and hardwood stands due to differences in forest structure and composition between the two pine environments.
“Longleaf pine restoration is a priority for the Southern Region of the National Forest System,” says research soil scientist Carl Trettin. “This project is an opportunity to advance the current science on longleaf restoration to broader scales as well as support the Region and the Forest.”