Assessment of disturbance impacts on U.S. forest carbon sequestration

PARTNERS: North American Carbon Program Working Groups 1a and 2b (multiple agencies and individuals)

SUMMARY: Disturbance impacts are important to consider when estimating the amount of carbon sequestered by U.S. forests. There has been little research in this area; therefore, the objective in this study is to estimate potential changes in forest carbon sequestration due to two major disturbance impacts: hurricanes and insects. This should result in more accurate estimations of U.S. forest carbon sequestration in the future. An extensive literature search will be conducted for estimates of the amount of direct damage (tree mortality) and indirect damage (e.g., subsequent fire, defoliation) caused by hurricanes and insects, by volume and year. These values will be used to estimate how much carbon is transferred from live to dead carbon pools during a disturbance event. Researchers will create an equation to estimate carbon biomass moved to the detritus pool, taking into account carbon fraction as a total proportion of total tree biomass, specific gravity of certain tree species, and stem wood ratios for non-commercial components of trees. The published damage values will be incorporated into these equations and scaled to regional and national levels to find the total carbon loss due to hurricanes and insects. Results of this work will include estimates of carbon lost via hurricanes and insects, leading to more accurate estimates of carbon sequestration by U.S. forests. Equations created to estimate total forest carbon loss based on damage could be adapted in the future to project carbon loss due to any disturbance impact.

EFETAC's ROLE: The project is being led by Eastern Threat Center scientists and supported with Eastern Threat Center funding.

STATUS: Completed

PROGRESS: Researchers are working with North American Carbon Program (NACP) Working Groups 1b (Fire impacts on carbon sequestration) and 2a (Disturbance Impacts on carbon sequestration) to assess historic impacts on US carbon sequestration. A database of historic carbon sequestration for North America is in development.

French, N.H.F., W.J. de Groot, L.K. Jenkins, B.M. Rogers, E. Alvarado, B. Amiro, B. de Jong, S. Goetz, E. Hoy, E. Hyer, R. Keane, B.E. Law, D. McKenzie, S.G. McNulty, R. Ottmar, D.R. Perez-Salicrup, J. Randerson, K.M. Robertson, and M. Turetsky. 2011. Model comparisons for estimating carbon emissions from North American wildland fire. Journal of Geophysical Research 116:G00K05. (PDF)

Moore Myers, J., S. McNulty, and S. Strickland. 2006. Managing Hurricane Impacts on Wild Fire Fuel Loads in Southern US Forests. Fifth Southern Forestry and Natural Resources GIS Conference. Asheville, NC. June 13-14, 2006.

McNulty, S. and S. Strickland. 2004. Insect impacts on North American forest carbon sequestration. Ecological Society Of America 89th Annual Meeting. Portland, OR. August 1-8, 2004.

Gavazzi, M., S. McNulty, J. Boggs, S. Strickland, D. Chojnacky, and J. Moore. 2004. Down deadwood buildup and carbon redistribution in a pond pine woodland following Hurricane Isabel. Ecological Society of America 89th Annual Meeting. Portland, OR. August 1-8, 2004.

McNulty, S. 2002. Hurricane Impacts on US Forest Carbon Sequestration. Environmental Pollution 116:S17-S24. (PDF)


CONTACT: Steve McNulty, Eastern Threat Center Ecologist, or 919-549-4068

Updated December 2013

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