Catastrophic Forest Disturbance and Regrowth in Puerto Rico Following Hurricane Maria: Benchmarks for Earth System Models from Forest Inventory and Remote Sensing Measurements

Collaborators: Doug Morton (NASA Goddard), Michael Keller (USFS) and Sebastian Martinuzzi (USFS).

Funding: DOE TES.

The mechanisms of tree mortality and forest canopy damage are poorly represented in current Earth System Models.  We are leveraging extensive forest inventory and airborne remote sensing data acquired before and after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico to quantify variability in tree mortality and canopy damage.  We will study canopy damage, mortality, and post-disturbance forest recovery across landscape gradients in climate, geology, topography, forest age, past land use and species composition. Time series of field and airborne remote sensing data will enable us to contrast hurricane damage with estimates of background forest mortality and canopy dynamics in the absence of storms across the entire island.  New landscape-level knowledge of damage, mortality, and post-disturbance recovery will provide benchmark data sets for modeling changes in forest structure, composition, and biogeochemical cycling from forest disturbance.  Together, these studies will advance our mechanistic understanding of tropical forest resilience to catastrophic disturbance as a function of disturbance intensity, climate, geology, topography, forest age, past land use and species composition. These advances are necessary to improve representation of vegetation demography and successional recovery from disturbance in Earth System Models at ecologically meaningful spatial and temporal scales.

Figure 1. Aerial view of El Yunque National Forest before (left) and after (right) hurricane Maria.


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