Sand Levels Revealing Some Ghost Forests On Oregon Coast
(Oregon Coast) – Presumably because of El Nino conditions, winter has not conjured up much on Oregon's beaches this time around. Winter storms in recent years have scoured more sand than usual off the beaches, resulting in stranger finds. But this winter, like last year’s, seems to be pretty average and almost uneventful.
Still, the odd ancient treasures – like ghost forest stumps – are popping up now and again, even if nothing too strange is making an appearance, as in some recent years. It also depends on the beach, as some have lower sand levels than others, and some wacky stuff is showing up in a few spots they’re not normally seen.
“Pretty much the same old story; the sand is up one day and down the next,” said David Woody, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s head park ranger for the north and central Oregon coast. “The ghost forest at Neskowin is still visible at times, and the root wads near Beverly Beach are migrating up and down that beach with the tides. That's about it for now.”
However, down near Florence, at the secretive Hobbit Trail beach, CoastWatch reports some significant loss of sand, resulting in a few ancient stumps.
The ancient trees in question are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, depending on the beach. Those that show up around Newport’s Beverly Beach or farther south around Seal Rock are probably around 4,000 years old, maybe more. Those in Neskowin appear to be around 2,000 years old, according to carbon dating.
Others periodically show up at Cape Lookout State Park, and these are estimated at around 1,000 years old.
They are nicknamed “ghost forests” for their spooky look, and because they are remarkably preserved remnants of an ancient forest. Oregon geologists like Roger Hart believe they are the result of a rather quick inundation of salt water, sand or soil material that covered the forest, keeping them out of the air and thus maintaining them over the millennia. This seeping in of ocean water or other materials likely happened over a stretch of decades.
Some theories say these may be the result of a violent geologic event that abruptly submerged the forest when the ground dropped as much as 25 feet. However, this theory isn’t as well regarded as it once was.
Southern central coast beaches – between Yachats and Florence – appear to be farther scoured out than others. CoastWatch reports one beach near Bray Point as being right down to the cobblestone and bedrock, prime conditions for agate hunting.
Up on the north and central coast, little seems to be taking place. Arch Cape and Hug Point (near Cannon Beach), haven’t dropped much, although some stuff not normally visible can be seen on these beaches – including the giant mushroom-shaped rock at Hug Point.
In Newport, things simply seem to be evening out. Resident Terry Morse noticed the sandy dunes often collected at the jetty beneath the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse during the summer months has now dispersed a bit more over the beach. CoastWatch reports the sand dunes at Nye Beach are not as high.
If you’re looking for a touch of Jurassic Park in Oregon, the coast just may have what you’re looking for right now. Sand levels are low enough at many spots to allow some decent agate hunting and a handful of fossil finds. One such treasure trove can sometimes be Moolack and Beverly Beaches, just north of Newport.
The cliff walls periodically drop interesting chunks of fossils. It is illegal to take these off the beach or break open the clumps of them that are coming out of the cliffs.
The bottoms of these cliffs also boast the same soft, gray clay material that is found in Arch Cape when sand levels get extremely low. Often, you will see fossils embedded in these chunks at Moolack.
Still, things are not as exciting as they were two years ago when sand levels had dropped ten feet or more, revealing all sorts of wonders along the coast.
A beach can shift in height overnight by three feet, given the right wave conditions, so keep an eye out for abrupt changes. But storms aren’t as plentiful as they were in the winter of the big December 7 storm of 2007.“There haven’t been all that many storms this winter,” Morse said.
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