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Eerie, Mind-Bending Ghost Forests Appear Around Oregon Coast

Published 02/05/21 at 7:56 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Eerie, Mind-Bending Ghost Forests Appear Around Oregon Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Parts of the central Oregon coast are thick with a new – yet extremely old – sight. 4,000-year-old ghost forests have popped up in numerous sections as sand levels there get scoured out by winter storms and the recent king tides. (Above: ghost forest stump at Seal Rock)

These ghost forests are older and much more interesting than those that show year-round at Neskowin. Those at Neskowin are only 2,000 years old, while many of those found around the Newport area right now are 4,000 years or more in age. They are sometimes spooky in appearance, and for their reminder of what climate change is capable of. Then their origin story is a mind-bending trip back in time filled with interesting scientific twists and turns.

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What you’ll see are either small stumps that look especially ragged, some of which may be tilted on their side, or they’ll be large root systems lying half in the sand with no discernible tops to them. Ghost forests are not petrified forests – they’re not solid rock. They were created by some gradual change in the landscape where sand and / or soil enveloped them, killing them by choking off the oxygen. Then, paradoxically, it’s that same lack of oxygen that preserved them by keeping them safe from the decaying properties of exposure to air. They were not - as rumored on the internet - the result of a sudden subsidence event such as an earthquake. (See Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists)

Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager for Surfrider Foundation, reported seeing plenty in the Newport area.

“I’ve seen them in all the other usual spots south of South Beach and down past Ona - super exposed,” Plybon said. “The sand on most the beaches has been really scoured between the king tides, swells and stormwater (rain).”

This is referring to places like Thiel Creek / Holiday Beach (a secret spot just south of Newport) and Curtis St. at Seal Rock, among other places. Other reports have come in from Gleneden Beach as well.

Thiel Creek ghost forest

According to PSU geologist Dr. Curt Peterson, these ancient stumps in the Newport area are roughly 3.5 to a little over 4,000 years old. This comes from his paper co-authored with Roger Hart in the early 2000s called “Late-Holocene Buried Forests On the Oregon Coast.”

The Hart / Peterson paper also points out just about all other places you can find ghost forests on the Oregon coast, although some had been discovered later after the paper’s publication. Some of the most famous ghost forest finds are those at Arch Cape and Hug Point near Cannon Beach, although it’s uncertain if those showed up this year or not.

Those areas are definitely worth looking at. They also sometimes boast the oddity of the “red towers” - which are reddish objects of varying shapes and size that are the result of things clumping together beneath the sand and then getting colored red by oxidation. They disappear shortly after being exposed, however.

Sometimes, these are found at Moolack Beach just north of Newport.

Moolack is another area that ghost forests have likely showed up if those sections south of there have seen them emerge. Those at Moolack are of the root system variety, looking like giant octopuses in the sand.

Moolack Beach ghost forest, taken 1998

Other areas to look at along the Oregon coast: McPhillips Beach on the northern face of Cape Kiwanda, Netarts and Cape Lookout State Park can be plentiful. On the southern Oregon coast, look to Crook Point, Otter Rock, Nesika Beach, Blacklock Point Bandon, Whiskey Run and Five Mile Point.

Same beach, 2007. Ghost forests are starting to get uprooted and are threatened

According to Hart and Peterson, the oldest ghost forest is in the Coos Bay area at 7,000 years old, and the youngest at Netarts at just under 1,000 years. However, in 2019 Peterson told Oregon Coast Beach Connection there is also a set of ghost forests at Netarts that are over 80,000 years old. MORE PHOTOS BELOW:

In Search of More Oregon Coast Ghost Forests - Where to Find Ghost Forests

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