The 12-year absence of major hurricane landfalls in the continental USA ended earlier this year: Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma … perhaps the list and the destruction will continue. But what does this have to do with forests?
As an ecologist concerned with how forests respond to damage, I know how destructive cyclonic storms—hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones (henceforth simply ‘cyclones’)—can be. But aside from the ecological impacts, recent research suggests that forests and cyclones share a more fundamental link: their relationship with atmospheric moisture.
Both forests and cyclones are characterized by immense volumes of rain. While the Amazon forest, even deep within the South American continent, can maintain rainfall of over two meters a year, a single cyclonic storm can generate rain at a rate of two cubic kilometers per day. All this rain derives from the atmosphere.
More forests may mean fewer and less destructive cyclones
If my colleagues Anastassia Makarieva and Victor Gorshkov are correct, the processes that sustain cyclones also sustain much of the world’s forests. At the same time, more forests may mean fewer and less destructive cyclones.
Recently, we have proposed and illustrated new ideas involving the physical principles that maintain rainfall in forested continental interiors, which are the same that power cyclones. Whether these ideas stand up to scientific scrutiny or not (and so far all the evidence suggests they will), there are good reasons to believe that extensive areas of forest can reduce both the likelihood and the severity of cyclones.