Hurricane Maria study warns: Future climate-driven storms may raze many tropical forests

phys.org | 3/25/2019 | Staff
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A new study shows that damage inflicted on trees in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria was unprecedented in modern times, and suggests that more frequent big storms whipped up by a warming climate could permanently alter forests not only here, but across much of the Atlantic tropics. Biodiversity could suffer as result, and more carbon could be added to the atmosphere, say the authors. The study appears this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Hurricane Maria not only destroyed far more trees than any previously studied storm; big, old trees thought to be especially resistant to storms suffered the worst. Lead author Maria Uriarte, a faculty member of Columbia University's Earth Institute, said that because hurricanes are projected to intensify with warming climate, the damage probably presages more such events. "These hurricanes are going to kill more trees. They're going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply," she said. "Forests will become shorter and smaller, because they won't have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse."

Maria - Puerto - Rico - October - Category

When Maria hit Puerto Rico in October 2017, it came in as a Category 4, with winds up to 155 miles per hour and up to three feet of rain in places. Many trees were denuded of foliage, snapped in half or blown clear out of the ground. The strongest storm to hit the island since 1928, Maria killed or severely damaged an estimated 20 million to 40 million trees.

Uriarte, who has been monitoring tree growth and mortality across Puerto Rico for the past 15 years, returned soon after the hurricane and began documenting its effects. For the new study, she and two colleagues homed in on a 40-acre section of the El Yunque National Forest, near the capital of San Juan, that has...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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