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Title: Climate change and the future of natural disturbances in the central hardwood region

The spatial patterns and ecological processes of the southeastern upland hardwood forests have evolved to reflect past climatic conditions and natural disturbance regimes. Changes in climate can lead to disturbances that exceed their natural range of variation, and the impacts of these changes will depend on the vulnerability or resiliency of these ecosystems. Global Circulation Models generally project annual increases in temperature across the southeastern United States over the coming decades, but changes in precipitation are less consistent. Even more unclear is how climate change might affect future trends in the severity and frequency of natural disturbances, such as severe storms, fires, droughts, floods, and insect outbreaks. Here, we use a time-series satellite data record to map the spatial pattern and severity of broad classes of natural disturbances the southeast region. The data derived from this map allow analysis of regional-scale trends in natural and anthropogenic disturbances in the region over the last three decades. Throughout the region, between 5% and 25% of forest land is affected by some sort of disturbance each year since 1985. The time series reveals periodic droughts that themselves are widespread and of low severity but are associated with more localized, high-severity disturbances such asmore » fire and insect outbreaks. The map also reveals extensive anthropogenic disturbance across the region in the form of forest conversion related to resource extraction and urban and residential development. We discuss how changes in climate and disturbance regimes might affect southeastern forests in the future via altering the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of these ecosystems. Changes in climate are highly likely to expose southeastern forests to more frequent and severe disturbances, but ultimately how vulnerable or resilient southeastern forests are to these changes will depend on their sensitivity and capacity to adapt to these novel conditions.« less
 [1] ;  [2] ;  [1]
  1. ORNL
  2. University of Tennessee (UT)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Springer, New York, NY, USA
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
EE USDOE - Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EE)
Country of Publication:
United States