Justin Fisk, Professor George Hurtt, and Katelyn Dolan, in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Toronto and Tulane University, published an article on the net impacts of tropical cyclones on the U.S. carbon balance. The article has been published in an Environmental Research Letters special issue on Extreme Events and the Carbon Cycle.
In temperate forests of the eastern US, tropical cyclones are a principal agent of catastrophic wind damage, with dramatic impacts on the structure and functioning of forests. Substantial progress has been made to quantify forest damage and resulting gross carbon emissions from tropical cyclones. However, the net effect of storms on the carbon balance of forests depends not only on the biomass lost in single events, but also on the uptake during recovery from a mosaic of past events. This study estimates the net impacts of tropical cyclones on the carbon balance of US forests over the period 1851–2000. To track both disturbance and recovery and to isolate the effects of storms, a modeling framework is used combining gridded historical estimates of mortality and damage with a mechanistic model using an ensemble approach. The net effect of tropical cyclones on the carbon balance is shown to depend strongly on the spatial and temporal scales of analysis. On average, tropical cyclones contribute a net carbon source over latter half of the 19th century. However, throughout much of the 20th century a regional carbon sink is estimated resulting from periods of forest recovery exceeding damage. The large-scale net annual flux resulting from tropical cyclones varies by up to 50 Tg C / yr, an amount equivalent to 17%–36% of the US forest carbon sink.
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