Climate Research and Development

Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain Climate Variability

Sediments from forested wetlands in the coastal plain act as an archive of climate variability and land use change.
Sediments from forested wetlands in the coastal plain act as an archive of climate variability and land use change.

This project is designed to generate high-resolution proxy records of late Holocene climate variability in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain, USA. In this region, most pollen and plant macrofossils records have focused on large-scale patterns of the last deglaciation (~20 ka - 11.5 ka) and the Holocene (11.5 ka to present). Although the broad changes tied to loss of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and mid-Holocene insolation changes have been well documented, few records have sufficient temporal resolution to document terrestrial response to decadal, multi-decadal, and centennial scale patterns of climate variability. This project uses sediment coring and pollen, microscopic charcoal, other proxies, and geochronology to document the vegetation response to changes in hydrology. By generating these high-resolution vegetation records, the project will link the terrestrial response to well-documented climate events found in marine and ice cores.

Why is this research important?

Several high-resolution proxy records from estuarine sediments indicate that the past two thousand years have been marked with extreme variability in temperature and precipitation as well as regional heterogeneity. This project examines the effects of the abrupt climate events such as the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age on the terrestrial vegetation. Understanding the nature of these events serves as a baseline to interpret current and future landscape changes.

Project Lead:
Christopher Bernhardt
Project Team:
Thomas Sheehan, Marci Marot, Bryan Landacre, Miriam Jones

10 publications matching the specified parameters were found.

Bernhardt, C.E. and Willard, D.A., 2015, Pollen and spores of terrestrial plants, in Shennan, I., Long, A.J., and Horton, B.P., eds., Handbook of Sea-Level Research: Sussex, John Wiley & Sons, p. 218-232.
Available at:

Kelsey, H.M., Engelhart, S.E., Pilarczyk, J.E., Horton, B.P., Rubin, C.M., Daryono, M.R., Ismail, N., Hawkes, A.D., Bernhardt, C.E., and Cahill, N., 2015, Accommodation space, relative sea level, and the archiving of paleo-earthquakes along subduction zones: Geology, v. 43, p. 675-678.
Available at:

Willard, D.A., Bernhardt, C.E., Hupp, C.R., and Newell, W.N., 2015, Coastal and wetland ecosystems of the Chesapeake Bay watershed: Applying palynology to understand impacts of changing climate, sea level, and land use, in Brezinski, D.K., Halka, J.P., and Ortt, R.A., Jr., eds, Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015. Geological Society of America Field Guide 40, p. 1-28.
Available at:

Jones, M.C., Bernhardt, C.E., and Willard, D.A., 2014, Late Holocene vegetation, climate, and land-use impacts on carbon dynamics in the Florida Everglades: Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 90, p. 90-105.

Kemp, A.C., Bernhardt, C.E., Horton, B.P., Kopp, R.E., Vane, C.H., Peltier, W.R., Hawkes, A.D., Donnelly, J.P., Parnell, A.C., and Cahill, N., 2014, Late Holocene sea-and land-level change on the US southeastern Atlantic coast: Marine Geology, v. 357, p. 90-100.

Bernhardt, C.E., Brandt, L.A., Landacre, B., Marot, M.E., and Willard, D.A., 2013, Reconstructing vegetation and its use for restoration, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida: Wetlands, v. 33, p. 1139-1149.
Available at:

Kemp, A.C., Horton, B.P., Vane, C.H., Bernhardt, C.E., Corbett, D.R., Engelhart, S.E., Anisfeld, S.C., Parnell, A.C., and Cahill, N., 2013, Sea-level change during the last 2500 years in New Jersey, USA: Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 8, no. 1, p. 90-104.

Willard D.A., 2013, Southeastern North America, in Elias S.A., ed., The Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science: Amsterdam, Elsevier, v. 4, p. 133-141.

Bernhardt, C.E., Stanley, J-D., and Horton, B.P., 2012, Nile Delta vegetation response to Holocene climate variability: Geology, v. 40, no. 7, p. 615-618.

Bernhardt, C.E., Wingard, G.L., Willard, D.A., Marot, M.E., Landacre, B., and Holmes, C.W., 2012, Chronology from Sediment Cores Collected in Southwestern Everglades National Park, Florida, USGS Open-File Report 2012-1275.