Story at a glance:
- An eastern bald cypress is the oldest living tree in the eastern U.S.
- Rising sea levels are threatening the tree, with little more than 6 feet of elevation standing between the tree and Atlantic Ocean.
- A 2016 study found that drought conditions and extreme events were the cause of the bald cypress's death.
It is the oldest known living tree on the East Coast, residing in North Carolina’s wetlands, and it is endangered due to climate change.
The 2,624-year-old bald cypress is the fifth-oldest living nonclonal tree species in the world. But it is vulnerable to conditions such as drought, heat wave, storms and flooding, all while warming temperatures continue to create problems for plant growth, resilience and reproduction, The Guardian reports.
“The principal threat to our forests is people and human activity. One consequence of human activity is climate change,” David Stahle, a dendrochronologist who was introduced to the Black River’s bald cypress stand in 1985, said.
Rising sea levels are threatening the bald cypress, with little more than 6 feet of elevation standing between the tree and Atlantic Ocean. This means that rising sea levels could one day bury the tree underwater by around 2080 based on the estimates that at least 20 feet is possible in the between next 100 and 200 years or so.
“With those bald cypress only two meters above sea level, that’s a really serious threat,” dendrochronologist and Harvard Forest senior ecologist Neil Pederson said. “I see sea level rise as a train alarm, on a really long, overloaded train. And it’s going to take a long time to slow that train down.”
In the case of the 2-millennium-old tree that stations in a swamp, high tree mortality rates were predicted in a 2016 study, which found that drought conditions and extreme events were the cause behind the bald cypress dying.
“Even though our forests seem to change slowly over time, every once in a while these things, like black swans, these unprecedented or unforeseen events, come and change an ecosystem,” he said.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA