September 30, 2008

Study: Beetles Affect Weather, Air Quality

U.S scientists say pine bark beetles killing large areas of forests in the Rocky Mountains might be altering local weather patterns and air quality.

The international research project is being led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

"Forests help control the atmosphere and there's a big difference between the impacts of a living forest and a dead forest," said NCAR scientist Alex Guenther. "With a dead forest, we may get different rainfall patterns, for example."

Preliminary computer modeling in the National Science Foundation-funded study suggests pine bark beetle kills can lead to temporary temperature increases of about 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit. That partly results because of a lack of foliage. The researchers also posit beetle kill stimulates trees to release more particles and chemicals into the atmosphere as they try to fight the insects. That worsens air quality by increasing levels of ground-level ozone and particulate matter.

Organizations participating in the project 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.