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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

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Forest Disturbance Processes

Impacts of Disturbances and Climate on Carbon Sequestration and Biofuels

[image:] Changes in climate, atmospheric components, land use and disturbance regimes affect forest carbon sequestration and biofuel product. It is important to understand these processes and attribute the effects to different causesResearch Issue

Currently, U.S. forests and forest products offset about 20% of the nation’s fossil fuel emissions. However, recent findings cast doubt on the sustainability of this offset. First, the strength of the U.S. forest carbon offset may be weakening due to forest ageing, climate variability, and increasing natural disturbances. Second, climate change is expected to further increase frequencies of insect outbreaks and wildfire, and alter species composition in forest ecosystems, consequently influencing forest carbon pools in a significant way.  These current and projected forest carbon cycle dynamics need to be considered in strategic forest planning and management decisions in coming decades if the nation’s forests are to provide stable or even increasing ecosystem services.

Our Research

We will provide high resolution continental maps of annually estimated forestland-atmosphere carbon exchange and other variables (i.e. biofuel product), and use a disturbance-driven ecosystem process model combined with age-climate related growth and mortality equations to project changes in carbon stocks under scenarios of future climate and disturbances. Data from FIA and ecosystem studies will be used to develop a forest age map and a net primary production (NPP) map of 2006 as “knowledge” to validate model simulations using historical climate, disturbances and atmospheric data. Through this work, we will take advantage of the combined power of FIA data and process knowledge from ecosystem studies, to achieve better accuracy and detection of carbon changes and causes of changes in the US forests, and provide the best available knowledge for managing forest C at regional and national scales. 

Expected Outcomes

The U.S. urgently needs a comprehensive forest management strategy that is based on the best available knowledge to sustain or increase forest benefits including the offset to fossil fuel emissions. The Chief of the Forest Service has called for a national effort to increase carbon sequestration, increase use of biofuels, and address threats to U.S. forests.  This research develops the scientific basis for evaluating the effects of climate change and disturbances on the forest carbon cycle, and provides basic information for analysis of tactical management alternatives at the scale of National Forests or States.

Research Results

We will provide the following specific data and products including: 1) the continental forest age and disturbance maps to characterize forest disturbance and regrowth effects; 2) age-climate related growth and mortality equations of major forest types within eco-regions; 3) inventory-based reference map of NPP served to constrain model predictions and as the “start point” for assessing future forest carbon changes, and 4) a unique disturbance-driven ecosystem process model, statistically parameterized by FIA data.

Zhang, F; Chen, JM; Pan, Y; Birdsey, RA; Shen, S; Ju, W; Dugan, AJ. 2015. Impacts of inadequate historical disturbance data in the early 20th century on modeling recent carbon dynamics (1951-2010) in conterminous US forests. JGR-Biogeosciences 120(3): 549-569.

Birdsey, R; Pan, Y; Janowiak, M; Stewart, S; Hines, S; Parker, L; Gower, S; Lichstein, J; McCullough, K; Zhang, F; Chen, J; Mladenoff, D; Wayson, C; Swanston, C. 2014. Past and prospective carbon stocks in forests of northern Wisconsin: a report from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Climate Change Response Framework. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-127. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 52 p.

Deng, F.; Chen, J.M.; Pan, Y.; Peters, W.; Birdsey, R.; McCullough, K.; Xiao, J. 2013. The use of forest stand age information in an atmospheric CO2 inversion applied to North America. Biogeosciences. 10(8): 5335-5348.

Dilling, L; Birdsey, R; Pan, Y. 2013. Opportunities and challenges for carbon management on U.S. public lands. Chapter 18. In: Brown DG, Robinson DT, French NHF, Reed BC (eds). Land use and the Carbon Cycle: Advance in Integrated Science, management, and Policy. Cambridge University Press, New York, p455-454.

He, L; Chen, JM; Pan, Y; Birdsey, R; Kattge, J. 2012. Relationships between net primary productivity and forest stand age in U.S. forests. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26: GB3009, doi:10.1029.

Zhang, F; Chen, JM; Pan, Y; Birdsey, RA; Shen, S; Ju, W; He, L. 2012. Attributing carbon changes in conterminous U.S. forests to disturbance and non-disturbance factors from 1901 to 2010. J. Geophysical Research 117: G02021, doi:10.1029.

Pan, Y; Chen, JM; Birdsey, R; McCullough, K; He, L; Deng, F. 2011. Age structure and disturbance legacy of North American forests. Biogeosciences 8:715-732.

He, L; Chen, JM; Zhang, S; Gomez, G; Pan, Y; McCullough, K; Birdsey, R. 2011. Normalized algorithm for mapping and dating forest disturbances and regrowth for the United States. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 13:236-245

Pan, Y; Birdsey, R; Chen, J; McCullough, K. 2008. Forest Carbon Change of the United States in Response to Impact of Disturbances, Succession, Climate Variability and Atmospheric Chemistry. In: Proceedings of the International Conference of IUFRO-8.01.02 Landscape Ecology, p.136-137

Smith, Pete; Nabuurs, Gert-Jan; Janssens, Ivan A.; Reis, Stefan; Marland, Gregg; Soussana, Jean-François; Christensen, Torben R.; Heath, Linda; Apps, Mike; Alexeyev, Vlady; Fang, Jingyun; Gattuso, Jean-Pierre; Guerschman, Juan Pablo; Huang, Yao; Jobbagy, Esteban; Murdiyarso, Daniel; Ni, Jian; Nobre, Antonio; Peng, Changhui; Walcroft, Adrian; Wang, Shao Qiang; Pan, Yude; Zhou, Guang Sheng. 2008. Sectoral approaches to improve regional carbon budgets Climate Change 88: 209-249.

Pan Y, Birdsey R, Hom J, McCullough K. 2007. Modeling complex effects of multiple environmental stresses on carbon dynamics of Mid-Atlantic temperate forests. Book of Abstracts The U.S. North American Carbon Program (NACP) Investigators, p58-59. NACP All Scientists Meeting, January 22-24, Colorado Springs, CO.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Yude Pan, Research Forester, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Richard Birdsey, Program Manager, US Forest Service Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Jing Chen, University of Toronto

Last Modified: 02/19/2016