Hurricanes can actually counteract global warming, a study published on April 20 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences suggests. Apparently, hurricanes encourage forest photosynthesis and growth, which absorbs hundreds of times more carbon released from vehicles.
“Our results show that, while hurricanes can cause flooding and destroy city infrastructure, there are two sides to the story,” adds Duke environmental engineer Ana Barros. “The other side is that hurricanes recharge the aquifers and have an enormous impact on photosynthesis and taking up carbon from the atmosphere.”
Barros, the James L. Meriam Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University, has already shown before that regular landfall of tropical cyclones is crucial to water supply and drought prevention in the US. Now, the professor reveals that it can also increase carbon uptake.
The researchers simulated the ecological impacts of hurricanes from 2004 through 2007 using a hydrological computer model. They observed that the number of tropical cyclones in the earlier years were higher than the later years. They found that photosynthesis and carbon uptake increased in forests of the southeastern United States due to hurricanes.
The research team concluded that hurricanes are actually beneficial despite the causalities they cause. Still, the researchers assert that relying on tropical cyclones to curb climate change may not be a good idea in the long term. They say there is no guarantee that a sufficient frequency of hurricanes may occur in a given year. Hence, they suggest protecting the forests without relying on hurricanes to improve the forests’ condition.
“There are a lot of regional effects competing with large worldwide changes that make it very hard to predict what climate change will bring to the southeastern United States,” says Barros. “If droughts do become worse and we don’t have these regular tropical cyclones, the impact will be very negative. And regardless of climate change, our results are yet one more very good reason to protect these vast forests.”