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Front cover of the Impacts of Drought on Coastal Ecosystems in the Carolinas. Cover shows an image of trees in relation to previous water height.

This State of Knowledge Report provides a synthesis and analysis of the peer-reviewed literature regarding drought impacts on coastal ecosystems in the Carolinas. Its objective is to expand current, limited understanding of drought impacts on coastal ecosystems, to identify critical gaps, to inform future research efforts, and to suggest measures to facilitate drought adaptation for ecosystems. The report centers on biological, chemical, and physical impacts and is not meant to address social impacts. While the authors targeted literature from studiesdone in the Carolinas, some research from outside the region was included when deemed pertinent. The report focuses on the coastal ecosystems of North and South Carolina but includes portions of the southern Virginia and Georgia coasts with ecological continuity to the Carolinas.

Droughts are a normal part of climate variability that occurs at scales from days to years. Significant periods of widespread drought in the study area occurred in 1925-29, 1930-35, 1950-57, 1965-1971, 1980-82, 1985-88, 1998-2002, (USGS 2002, Weaver 2005) and 2007-2008. Many of the droughts of interest in this report are multi-year droughts or “supra-seasonal” droughts, typified by longer-term rainfall deficits and declines in water availability. Of lesser concern are seasonal droughts that occur as regular periods of low flow.

This executive summary presents the key themes identified from the literature. References are cited where a specific finding or observation is noted.

Steve Gilbert, US Fish & Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (retired) Kirsten Lackstrom, University of South Carolina, Department of Geography, Carolinas Integrated Sciences & Assessments Dan Tufford, Ph.D., University of
January 1, 2012