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Mr. Smarty Plants - Will the sea water from Hurricane Ike residually affect Galveston's soil

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Sunday - December 06, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Will the sea water from Hurricane Ike residually affect Galveston's soil
Answered by: Chris Caran and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Most of the trees on Galveston Island died following Hurricane Ike, apparently as a result of the sea water that covered the island. Will the sea water that soaked the soil have a residual effect on transplanted replacement trees?

ANSWER:

Under normal circumstances, Galveston Island's sandy porous soil functions as an aquifer containing a zone of freshwater.  This "lens" of fresh water derives from rainwater that infiltrates through the soil and overlies a deeper zone of seawater that infiltrates laterally from the ocean and bay.  Some of the saltwater that covered the island during Hurricane Ike no doubt also filtered downward and is now above the freshwater lens.  Saltwater is denser than freshwater and so will move downward and mix with the freshwater.  The saltwater will eventually become thoroughly diluted.  In addition, the layer of mixed water will also be diluted by rainwater seeping downward through the soil.  How long that will take will depend on the amount of salt water from the hurricane and how much rainwater infiltrated.  Additionally, some of the island is built on clay deposits that are far less porous, and mixing in these areas may take longer. So, eventually Galveston Island's soil will have no trouble supporting the transplanted replacement trees—hopefully, sooner than later.  Of course, many of the plants on Galveston Island are salt tolerant.  This is quite evident since Galveston has been hit many times over the centuries by hurricanes bringing elevated salt concentrations but the island still has abundant plant life.

 

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