Hurricanes Impact Carbon Sequestration By Forests

Carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide in solid materials so the carbon is removed from the atmosphere and the damaging effects of carbon emissions on the environment is minimized. It is well documented that carbon, as a green house gas, is contributing to global warming. One of the most reliable sources of carbon sequestration is the forests around the world. However, hurricanes are proving to have a negative impact on the amount of carbon sequestration that is occurring in forests.

Some of the largest and fastest growing forests develop close to oceans where frequent hurricanes are possible. Healthy, large, mature trees absorb and store more carbon than smaller and less mature trees. Unfortunately, hurricanes destroy the larger trees because they are more easily uprooted in high wind conditions. After a hurricane has toppled these mature trees, the once living trees become dead wood. As dead wood, the trees are no longer able to absorb and store carbon. As the trees decompose over time, the trees release carbon back into the atmosphere. Hurricanes not only stop the carbon sequestration process in the trees that have been uprooted, but add more carbon being released into the atmosphere as the trees decompose.

Another problem is that dead trees toppled by hurricanes become fuel for wild fires. On the ground and drying out, the trees become kindling. Wild fires can destroy the surviving vegetation, which again reduces the remaining carbon sequestration occurring in a forest. In addition, the burning of the forest adds carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

Another consequence of a hurricane is the length of time it takes for a forest to regenerate itself. Most studies estimate it takes 15 to 20 years for a forest to regain its carbon sequestration capacity.


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