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Beach Exposures of Tree Stumps in Wells Embayment
Barrier Beach and Dune Migration
Sea-Level Rise in Wells Embayment
The region from Ogunquit to the Kennebunks is known as Wells Embayment. For thousands of years, the ocean along the embayment and the entire Maine coast has been rising (Kelley and others, 1996). At various times in the past when sea level was lower than at present, salt marshes formed behind the dunes at lower elevations. The top elevation of high and low salt marshes (Spartina patens and S. alterniflora) can be related to the height of the tides (mean high water) in the past.
Locations of Tree Stumps on the Beach
There are notable locations of tree stumps in the intertidal zone of beaches in Wells (Figures 4-7) and Kennebunk (Figures 8-12). These stumps are most easily found during the late winter or early spring after winter storm waves have eroded the beach and when the tide is low.
Lords Point has been eroded dramatically over the last sixty years. A building on the point was destroyed by storms and is now gone (compare Figure 8 and Figure 10). In the pocket beach just east (right) of Lords Point are drowned, intertidal tree stumps from an upland setting that existed several thousand years ago. As a consequence of sea-level rise of over a three feet in the last few thousand years, the shoreline in this cove has migrated inland a considerable distance.
Stumps on other Maine Beaches
Stumps have been reported on several other Maine beaches. In Georgetown, Mile Beach at Reid State Park has tree roots exposed periodically after winters with severe erosion. Robinhood Cove, also in Georgetown, has a sheltered beach tombolo (sand bar) adjacent to the Nubble. At this site, Bradley (1953) reported eastern white pine, Pinus strobus, stumps exposed in the intertidal zone. One of these was determined to be 4150±200 radiocarbon years old. In Scarborough, Western Beach, adjacent to the Prouts Neck headland, had tree stumps exposed on the beach in 1951 and 1952 (Bradley, 1953) but their ages were not determined.
Most of coastal Maine has had a very similar history of sea-level change during the last several thousand years. Other beaches may have stumps exposed from time to time, particularly after winters with severe beach erosion. Peat is often exposed in and around the ancient tree stumps or by itself (see Duffy and others, 1989 for an example of peat exposed in Biddeford). If you walk the beach in late winter or early spring you may find these relicts of past landforms near the mid-tide level.
Belknap, D. F., Shipp, R. C., Stuckenrath, R., Kelley, J. T., and Borns, H. W., Jr., 1989, Holocene sea-level change in coastal Maine: in Anderson, W. A., and Borns, H. W., Jr. (Eds.), Neotectonics of Maine: studies in seismicity, crustal warping, and sea level change, Maine Geological Survey (Department of Conservation), Bulletin 40, p. 85-105.
Bradley, W. H., 1953, Age of intertidal tree stumps at Robinhood, Maine, Amer. Jour. Science, v. 252, p. 543-546.
Dubois, R. N., 1992, A re-evaluation of Bruun's Rule and supporting evidence. Jour. Coastal Research, v. 8, p. 618-628.
Duffy, W., Belknap, D. F., and Kelley, J. T., 1989, Morphology and stratigraphy of small barrier-lagoon systems in Maine: in Ward, L. G., and Ashley, G. M. (Eds.), Physical processes and sedimentology of siliciclastic dominated lagoonal systems: Marine Geology, v. 88, nos. 3-4, p. 243-262.
Everts, C. H., 1987, Continental shelf evolution in response to a rise in sea level, in Sea-level Fluctuation and Coastal Evolution, Nummedal, D., Pilkey, O. H., and Howard, J. D., Eds., Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Tulsa, Oklahoma, p. 49-57.
Gehrels, W. R., 1994, Holocene sea-level changes in the northern Gulf of Maine; regional trends and local fluctuations determined from foraminiferal analyses and paleotidal modeling: Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maine, Orono, Maine, 351 p.
Gehrels, W. R., Belknap, D. F., and Kelley, J. T., 1996, Integrated high-precision analyses of Holocene relative sea-level changes; lessons from the coast of Maine: Geological Society of America, Bulletin, v. 108, no. 9, p. 1073-1088.
Hussey, A. M., II, 1959, Age of intertidal tree stumps at Wells Beach and Kennebunk Beach, Maine, Jour. of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 29, no. 3, p. 464-465, table.
Hussey, A. M., II, 1970, Observations on the origin and development of the Wells Beach area, Maine, Maine Geological Survey, Bulletin 23, p. 58-68.
Kelley, J. T., Dickson, S. M., Belknap, D. F., 1996, Maine's history of sea-level changes: Maine Geological Survey, Fact Sheet.
Kelley, J. T., Almquist-Jacobson, H., Jacobson, G. L. Jr., Gehrels, R. and Schneider, Z., 1992, The geologic and vegetative development of tidal marshes at Wells, Maine, U.S.A.: Research Report to the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 73 p.
Kelley, Joseph T., Belknap, Daniel F., Jacobson, G. L., Jr., and Jacobson, H. A., 1988, The morphology and origin of salt marshes along the glaciated coastline of Maine, USA: Jour. of Coastal Research, v. 4, no. 4, p. 649-666.
Timson, B. S., 1978, New carbon-14 dates (pdf), The Maine Geologist, v. 4(3), p. 6.
Wells, J. T., 1995, Effects of sea level rise on coastal sedimentation and erosion, in: Climate Change - Impact on Coastal Habitation, D. Eisma, Ed. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, Florida, p. 111-136.
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Originally published on the web as the April 2003 Site of the Month.
Last updated on April 23, 2012
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