August 14, 2010

Millions of trees killed by single rainforest storm

A single Amazon storm killed half a billion trees in January 2005, according to a recent study.

Although it has been long registered that there was a spike in tree mortality rates during 2005, scientists have only recently calculated exactly how many trees a single large storm can effect.    Previously, it had been assumed that the severe Amazonian drought was responsible for much of the rise in tree loss during this particularly bad year.   However, a study involving scientists from Tulane University, New Orleans, revealed that much of the tree loss happened outside of the area effected by drought and was related to a single large storm early in 2005.

Such storms are formed by a long squall line (a chain of thunderstorms) attracting serious lightening strikes and very heavy rainfall.  There are fears that the frequency of such storms may increase with climate change.  In turn, the death of large numbers of trees will contribute further to carbon emissions.

Combining satellite image research with ground based measurement, the researchers were able to detect even relatively small (less than 10) tree losses.   Field sites were set up in 5 main spots once canopy disturbance associated with tree loss was detected on the satellite images.  Results were then extrapolated to a larger area of the Amazon.  Estimates are that between 441 and 663 million trees were killed by the one storm which the researchers equate to about 23% of the estimated mean annual carbon accumulation in the Amazon rainforest


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