Natural Forest Disturbances Impact Ecosystem Carbon Cycle and Radiative Forcing


Disturbances such as fire, insect infestations, or extreme storms are often evaluated for their impacts on forest ecosystem carbon cycling. However, in addition to the direct effects of killing trees on the carbon cycle, these changes in land cover can also lead to changes in albedo, a measure of the absorbance versus reflectance of solar radiation from the Earth’s surface. In a recent paper, DOE scientists O’Halloran et al. compare these three disparate forest disturbance events and show that they cause similar magnitudes of change in albedo and carbon flux. Due to the long time scale for forest growth, such changes are likely to persist for decades, and both need to be represented in Earth system models.


O’Halloran, T. L. O., B. E. Law, M. L. Goulden, Z. Wang, J. G. Barr, C. Schaaf, M. Brown, J. D. Fuentes, M. Gockede, A. Black, V. Engel. 2011. “Radiative Forcing of Natural Forest Disturbance,” Global Change Biology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02577.x.