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Goal: Sustain Our Nation’s Forests and Grasslands Comparing the impacts of different management and disturbance histories on the hydrology of two Atlantic Coastal Plain forests

Huger Creek, a tidal freshwater stream flanked by bottomland hardwood wetlands on the Santee Experimental Forest, SC. (Forest Service photo by Carl C. Trettin)


Shallow water tables respond rapidly to rainfall and evapotranspiration, making runoff in coastal forests highly variable. However, new SRS research on two very different forests found that they had similar runoff responses to extreme climatic events. Long-term monitoring is key to understanding how climate and vegetation management affect runoff.


This research compared long-term hydrology on two Atlantic Coastal Plain sites: a naturally drained forest in South Carolina that is managed only for restoration and relatively undisturbed (except for Hurricane Hugo in 1989); and a drained pine plantation in North Carolina managed for silvicultural production. Both sites are on shallow, high water table soils and in areas where demand for developed land is growing.

The researchers used monitoring and modeling approaches to highlight differences in the water table and water balance between these two different forests. The researchers also investigated their resiliency after natural and human-caused disturbances, along with the importance of long-term monitoring and effects of regeneration on flow regime.

Results from these coastal freshwater systems can provide a baseline for restoring longleaf pine; evaluating effects of increasing land use change on intensive silviculture, urbanization, or bioenergy; extreme events; and sea-level rise impacts on groundwater and runoff that threaten habitat, wetlands, and stormwater management.

Understanding hydrologic processes on these forests can help managers assess nutrient and carbon export, mercury dynamics, and salinity levels in estuarine areas with fisheries habitat. Such information is critical for National Forest System managers, regulators in the coastal region, and others interested in assessment and restoration of ecosystem functions as well as adaptive management practices to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Principal Investigators
Devendra M. Amatya, Research Hydrologist
Carl C. Trettin, Team Leader and Supervisory Research Soil Scientist
4353 - Center for Forest Watershed Research
Strategic Program Area
Water, Air, and Soil
Comparison of Hydrology of two Atlantic Coastal Plain forests
CompassLive Article
Wetland Silviculture & Water Tables
External Partners
Thomas M. Williams - Clemson University
Jami E. Nettles - Clemson University
R. Wayne Skaggs - North Carolina State University