I have picked this article because it made me wonder how climate is involved with storms destroying climates, and how forests protect the climate. When Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico last September, it ripped off roofs, flooded neighborhoods and all but destroyed the island’s power grid, leaving a catastrophe that Puerto Ricans are still recovering from months later. Hurricane Maria not only affected people’s homes, but it also affected nature as well. Its winds of up to 155 miles an hour wrecked thousands of acres of trees, including El Yunque National Forest, 28,000 acres of lush tropical rain forest east of the capital, San Juan.
A group of researchers hiked down a mountain trail in El Yunque, and saw how much destruction that happened to the forest. Maria Uriarte, an ecologist at Columbia University, led the group of researchers to study the damage and understand how a rise in extreme weather may undermine the ability of forests to aid the climate. Before Maria, the mountainside here would have been in shade, a canopy of sierra palm fronds and leafy branches of yagrumo trees and others blocking much of the sunlight. But the winds knocked down many of the leafy trees, sheared off the branches of others and completely stripped the more flexible palms of their fronds. The slope was now open to the sky, and the outskirts of San Juan, normally blocked from view, were visible far in the distance. The research will examine how severe storms affect the amount of carbon forests pull out of the atmosphere and store. Since climate change is presumed to have a rise of extreme weather events in many parts of the world, the work will also help researchers understand how forests could be changed permanently as the world continues to warm.
Trees are a vital part of the carbon cycle, meaning carbon moves through the land, ocean, and the atmosphere. What trees’ role is that they remove atmospheric carbon dioxide, incorporating the carbon into their tissues as they grow.
Around the world, forests stores a lot of carbon, removing one billion to two billion tons from the atmosphere each year. That’s a substantial portion of the roughly 10 billion tons of carbon pumped into the air by fossil-fuel burning and other human activities. Dead vegetation decomposes when a forest is damaged, then gives back carbon to the atmosphere. When a forest begins to recuperate, species that grow in light tend to take control until the canopy grows again. Since trees are smaller and younger, the forest houses less carbon. If this cycle of damage and regrowth happens many times than normal, then forests will never be able to completely recover.