Hurricane impacts on US forest carbon sequestration

  • Author(s): McNulty, Steven G.
  • Date: 2002
  • Source: Environmental Pollution 116 (2002) S17-S24
  • Station ID: --

Recent focus has been given to US forests as a sink for increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Current estimates of US Forest carbon sequestration average approximately 20 Tg (i.e. 1012 g) year. However, predictions of forest carbon sequestration often do not include the influence of hurricanes on forest carbon storage. Intense hurricanes occur two out of three years across the eastern US. A single storm can convert the equivalcnt of 10% of the total annual carbon sequestrated by US forests into dead and downed biomass. Given that forests require at least 15 years to recover from a severe storm, a large amount of forest carbon is lost either directly (through biomass destruction) or indirectly (through lost carbon sequestration capacity) due to hurricanes. Only 15% of the total carbon in destroyed timber is salvaged following a major hurricane. The remainder of the carbon is left to decompose and eventually return to the atmosphere. Short-term increases in forest productivity due to increased nutrient inputs from detritus are not fully compensated by reduced stem stocking, and the recovery time needed to recover leaf area. Therefore, hurricanes are a significant factor in reducing short-term carbon storage in US forests.

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