Studying nearly a hundred and fifty years of tropical storm landfalls in the United States, researchers have discovered that the storm systems have a sizable impact on forest carbon sinks due to the large-scale destruction of trees.
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that on average tropical storm systems impact 97 million trees in the United States, mostly in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, although the east coast’s forests also proved susceptible, most particularly in North Carolina.
On average, this destruction of forests releases 25 teragrams of carbon into the atmosphere. During the 1980s the researchers believe that the tropical storms offset the carbon sink abilities of forests in U.S. by 9-18 percent. However, the study did not take into account the uptake of carbon due to forest regrowth after the storm passes. Dr. Zeng, one of the study’s authors, told Mongabay.com that other researchers are currently using the study to determine carbon uptake due to forest regrowth.
In contrast a study of Hurricane Katrina in 2007 showed that the Category 5 storm damaged 320 million trees and released 105 teragrams of carbon.
Prior to 1900, forests damage was twice as large. The researchers discovered two reasons for this: the Nineteenth century witnessed more active tropical storms and the U.S. contained a lot more forested area then.
The research team estimated impacts of tropical storms across the United States beginning in 1851 with computer modeling that simulated total amount of damage to forests.
Since a number of studies have shown that global warming will likely create more frequent and intense tropical storms, the researchers conclude that their study is “an important baseline for evaluating how potential future changes in hurricane frequency and intensity will impact forest tree mortality and carbon balance.”
CITATION: Hongcheng Zeng, Jeffrey Q. Chambers, Robinson I. Negron-Jurez, George C. Hurtt, David B. Baker, and Mark D. Powell (2009). Impacts of tropical cyclones on U.S. forest tree mortality and carbon flux from 1851 to 2000. PNAS, April 27th, 2009.
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