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When trees die, water slows

Date:
December 16, 2015
Source:
University of Utah
Summary:
Mountain pine beetle populations have exploded over the past decade, and these insects have infected and killed thousands of acres of western pine forests. Researchers predicted that as trees died, streamflow would increase, but a new study disproved this hypothesis.
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Researchers ski past dying trees.
Credit: Photo provided by Paul Brooks

Mountain pine beetle populations have exploded over the past decade due to warmer temperatures and drier summers, and these insects have infected and killed thousands of acres of western pine forests. Researchers have predicted that as trees died, streamflow would increase because fewer trees would take up water through their roots.

A recent study by University of Utah geology and geophysics professor Paul Brooks and his colleagues in Arizona, Colorado and Idaho, found that if too many trees die, compensatory processes kick in and may actually reduce water availability. When large areas of trees die, the forest floor becomes sunnier, warmer and windier, which causes winter snow and summer rain to evaporate rather than slowly recharging groundwater.

The bad news is that the loss of so many trees may not help alleviate the long-term drought in the West as many have hoped. The good news is that researchers can use the new understanding of forest water cycle to manage healthier forests that are more resistant to drought but still supply water to agriculture and cities downstream.

This is the first empirical evaluation of streamflow response to widespread tree mortality from mountain pine beetles in more than 30 years and is the largest study of its kind, says Brooks.

Brooks presented this research at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in San Francisco. The AGU annual meeting is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Utah. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joel A. Biederman, Andrew J. Somor, Adrian A. Harpold, Ethan D. Gutmann, David D. Breshears, Peter A. Troch, David J. Gochis, Russell L. Scott, Arjan J.H. Meddens, Paul D. Brooks. Recent tree die-off has little effect on streamflow in contrast to expected increases from historical studies. Water Resources Research, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015WR017401

Cite This Page:

University of Utah. "When trees die, water slows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 December 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151216082911.htm>.
University of Utah. (2015, December 16). When trees die, water slows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151216082911.htm
University of Utah. "When trees die, water slows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151216082911.htm (accessed August 29, 2016).