September 25, 2008

Study Attempts To Find Beetles’ Effects On Weather

Researchers are hoping to find out if a plague of beetles can change the weather as they embark on a four-year research program in Western forests that are being infested by pine mountain beetles, leading to the deaths of great swathes of trees.

Local weather affects vegetation by absorbing or reflecting sunlight and releasing chemicals and moisture. Changes can influence such things as rainfall, temperatures and smog.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., have launched an effort to study the interaction between the surface and the atmosphere in a region extending from southern Wyoming to northern New Mexico using aircraft, ground-based instruments and computer models.

NCAR scientist Alex Guenther, a principal investigator on the project, said forests help control the atmosphere, and there's a big difference between the impacts of a living forest and a dead forest.

"With a dead forest, we may get different rainfall patterns, for example," he added.

Small plant particles can form the nucleus for raindrops. Plants also emit chemicals that can help form smog. Living forests soak up carbon dioxide, while dead ones release it, potentially contributing to warming.

The researchers said preliminary computer modeling suggests that beetle kills of large forest areas can lead to temporary temperature increases of 2-to-4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The project for Bio-hydro-atmosphere Interactions of Energy, Aerosols, Carbon, H2O, Organics, and Nitrogen is known as BEACHON, for short.

The National Science Foundation funded the project and participating organizations include Colorado College, Colorado State University, Cornell University, Texas A&M University, and the universities of Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington as well as the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and universities in Austria, France and Japan.


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