Ecological effects of disaster surprising

May 4, 2012 at 2:55 PM
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif., May 4 (UPI) -- A massive 2010 earthquake-tsunami in Chile caused the surprising reappearance of long-forgotten beach habitats and species not seen for years, researchers say.

Such a result may not be among the expected effects of a natural disaster but that's what happened after the 8.8-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami hit the sandy beaches of south-central Chile, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported Wednesday.

Working with scientists from the Southern University of Chile, UCSB researchers documented the before-and-after ecological effects of the natural disaster.

"So often you think of earthquakes as causing total devastation, and adding a tsunami on top of that is a major catastrophe for coastal ecosystems," UCSB biologist Jenny Dugan said.

"As expected, we saw high mortality of intertidal life on beaches and rocky shores, but the ecological recovery at some of our sandy beach sites was remarkable."

The magnitude and direction of land-level change resulting from the earthquake and amplified by the tsunami brought great effects, researchers said, including the widening and flattening of beaches.

"Plants are coming back in places where there haven't been plants, as far as we know, for a very long time," Dugan said. "The earthquake created sandy beach habitat where it had been lost. This is not the initial ecological response you might expect from a major earthquake and tsunami."

The study provides clues to the potential effects of natural disasters on sandy beaches worldwide, the researchers said.

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