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Asiful Alam stands with trees as a backdrop

Blown away by changes: Hurricanes that hit the South can have an effect on carbon

Note: This story is part of a special issue of The Warnell Log focused on carbon.

The aftermath of a hurricane includes downed trees, damaged saplings, salt water intrusion—and a lot less carbon.

That’s one calculation made by Warnell researcher Asiful Alam, a Ph.D. student (and M.S. graduate) who is studying the effects of catastrophic hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Funded by a grant through the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Alam’s research involves modeling future land use considering the effects of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, analyzing how hurricanes are affecting the tree canopy in Perdido Bay and St. Andrew Bay watersheds and how the aboveground carbon profile in those two watersheds is behaving before and after these catastrophic hurricanes.

The work will help landowners and policy makers better plan for storms and manage forestland in case they experience this level of hurricane.

His research paper is still under review, but, he says, “Carbon went down. It went down immediately, especially the leaves-off condition caused by strong wind” after a hurricane. Not only were trees downed by the winds, but if the debris remains on the landscape, it emits carbon as it decays. These emissions are greater than any regeneration taking place in the forest. It will take years to regain this carbon through new tree growth.

And, he added, there’s another avenue of his results that may catch future research attention: “Carbon emissions might be greater than the carbon sequestration in this area affected by the hurricane. The destruction of trees by hurricanes can temporarily reduce the capacity of forests to sequester carbon”

Alam is working on the project with his advisor, associate professor Puneet Dwivedi; other collaborators include researchers from Auburn University and USDA. He also worked with life cycle carbon emissions producing biojet fuel from Carinata, which was also featured in various news portals.


Associate Professor, Sustainability Sciences

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