Unprecedented levels of insect induced tree mortality and massive wildfires both have spread through the forests of Western North America over the last decade. Warming temperatures and increased drought stress have been implicated as major factors in the increasing spatial extent and frequency of these forest disturbances, but it is unclear how simultaneous changes in forest structure and climate will interact to affect either downstream water resources or the regeneration and recovery of forested ecosystems. Because both streamflow and ecosystem productivity depend on seasonal snowmelt, a critical knowledge gap exists in how these disturbances will interact with a changing climate to control to the amount, timing, and the partitioning of seasonal snow cover.
This presentation will address this knowledge gap by synthesizing recent work on snowpack dynamics and ecosystem productivity from seasonally snow-covered forests along a gradient of snow depth and duration from Arizona to Montana. These include undisturbed sites, recently burned forests, and areas of extensive insect-induced forest mortality. Both before-after and control-impacted studies of forest disturbance on snow accumulation and ablation suggest that the spatial scale of snow distribution increases following disturbance, but net snow water input likely will not increase under a warming climate. While forest disturbance changes spatial scale of snowpack partitioning, the amount and especially the timing of snow cover accumulation and ablation are strongly related to interannual variability in ecosystem productivity with both earlier snowmelt and later snow accumulation associated with decreased carbon uptake. These observations suggest that the ecosystem services of water provision and carbon storage may be very different in the forests that regenerate after disturbance.
Brooks P.D., Harpold A.A., Biederman J.A., Litvak M.E., Broxton P.D., Gochis D., Molotch N.P., Troch P.A., Ewers B.E. (2012): Insects, Fires, and Climate Change: Implications for Snow Cover, Water Resources and Ecosystem Recovery in Western North America . Abstract B21I-02 presented at 2012 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, Calif., 3-7 Dec (Talk)..