Impacts of tropical cyclones on U.S. forest tree mortality and carbon flux from 1851 to 2000

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 12;106(19):7888-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0808914106. Epub 2009 Apr 27.


Tropical cyclones cause extensive tree mortality and damage to forested ecosystems. A number of patterns in tropical cyclone frequency and intensity have been identified. There exist, however, few studies on the dynamic impacts of historical tropical cyclones at a continental scale. Here, we synthesized field measurements, satellite image analyses, and empirical models to evaluate forest and carbon cycle impacts for historical tropical cyclones from 1851 to 2000 over the continental U.S. Results demonstrated an average of 97 million trees affected each year over the entire United States, with a 53-Tg annual biomass loss, and an average carbon release of 25 Tg y(-1). Over the period 1980-1990, released CO(2) potentially offset the carbon sink in forest trees by 9-18% over the entire United States. U.S. forests also experienced twice the impact before 1900 than after 1900 because of more active tropical cyclones and a larger extent of forested areas. Forest impacts were primarily located in Gulf Coast areas, particularly southern Texas and Louisiana and south Florida, while significant impacts also occurred in eastern North Carolina. Results serve as an important baseline for evaluating how potential future changes in hurricane frequency and intensity will impact forest tree mortality and carbon balance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Cyclonic Storms*
  • Ecosystem
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Models, Statistical
  • Southeastern United States
  • Trees*
  • United States


  • Carbon