Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tropical forests mitigate extreme weather events

Date:
December 18, 2013
Source:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Summary:
Tropical forests reduce peak runoff during storms and release stored water during droughts, according to researchers in Panama. Their results lend credence to a controversial phenomenon known as the sponge effect, which is at the center of a debate about how to minimize flood damage and maximize water availability in the tropics.

How important are tropical forests to the health of the Panama Canal Watershed and the area around other tropical reservoirs?
Credit: Beth King

Tropical forests reduce peak runoff during storms and release stored water during droughts, according to researchers working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Their results lend credence to a controversial phenomenon known as the sponge effect, which is at the center of a debate about how to minimize flood damage and maximize water availability in the tropics.

Related Articles


During nearly 450 tropical storms, a team of visiting scientists from the University of Wyoming measured the amount of runoff from pastureland, abandoned pastureland and forested land as part of a large-scale land-use experiment in the Panama Canal watershed initiated by STRI.

Data collected by STRI staff and analyzed by University of Wyoming students indicate that land-use history has complex, long-term effects. "We measured large differences in hydrologic response between watersheds with different land-use histories and land cover," said Fred Ogden, STRI Senior Research Associate and Civil Engineering Professor at the University of Wyoming. "Our ultimate objective is to better understand these effects and include this improved understanding in a high-resolution hydrological model that we are developing to predict land-use effects in tropical watersheds."

"The result for storm peaks is spectacular," said Robert Stallard, hydrologist at STRI and the United States Geological Survey who developed the statistics for data analysis. "Storm-water runoff from grazed land is much higher than from forested land. The results are clearest after big storms." On the other hand, forests released more water than grasslands and mixed-use landscapes during the late dry season, pointing to the importance of forests in regulating water flow throughout the year in seasonal climates.

Evidence to support the sponge effect was lacking for tropical forests, leading some to question its validity. "One of reasons why there isn't more scientific evidence for the sponge effect is that you have to take what nature dishes out," said Stallard, a staunch proponent of the sponge effect, who is often seen wearing Sponge Bob socks. "It requires a long-term institutional commitment to get good results. The USGS, STRI, University of Wyoming and the Panama Canal Authority have the resources to do that."

Severe drought forced Panama Canal authorities to impose draft restrictions on transiting ships in 1997. In 2010, a major December storm system, examined in this study, halted shipping in the canal for 17 hours. Land use in the watershed not only affects world commerce but also water availability for Panama's major urban areas. The study is particularly relevant to land use decisions throughout the tropics where more than 50 percent of forests are now "secondary" forests that have grown back after logging or on abandoned pastureland.

The 700-hectare Panama watershed experiment, also known as Agua Salud, will run for 20 to 30 years, making it the largest ongoing study of land use in the tropics.

"Our project aims to clearly quantify environmental services such as water flow, carbon storage and biodiversity conservation that decision makers will consider as they evaluate projects from forest restoration to watershed management," said Jefferson Hall, Smithsonian staff scientist and project director.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fred L. Ogden, Trey D. Crouch, Robert F. Stallard, Jefferson S. Hall. Effect of land cover and use on dry season river runoff, runoff efficiency, and peak storm runoff in the seasonal tropics of Central Panama. Water Resources Research, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/2013WR013956

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Tropical forests mitigate extreme weather events." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131218112952.htm>.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (2013, December 18). Tropical forests mitigate extreme weather events. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131218112952.htm
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Tropical forests mitigate extreme weather events." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131218112952.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, thanks in part to something called feedback. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins