Haiyan may have made climate change worse

Researchers believe the storm released a massive amount of carbon into the atmosphere

Topics: Typhoon Haiyan, Climate Change, carbon emissions, trees, carbon, Global Warming,

It’s unclear whether climate change contributed to Typhoon Haiyan. But Typhoon Haiyan might end up contributing to climate change.

According to a team of U.S. researchers, the enormous number of trees knocked down by the powerful storm will, as they break down, release carbon into the atmosphere. The particular conditions in the Philippines may mean that the amount released could be massive. Phys.org explains:

In their paper the researchers note that Hurricane Katrina, for example, caused the release of approximately 100 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The problem with Cyclone Haiyan is likely to be worse for two main reasons: it was a bigger storm covering a wider area and it struck a part of the world that has denser tree cover. The researchers aren’t willing to try to predict how much carbon will eventually be released by all the downed trees, but suggest it could be huge—the carbon released by Katrina, equaled nearly half of all carbon sequestered by trees in the United States annually.

Earlier this year, a study was published suggesting that the relationship between climate change and extreme weather might be in a “vicious cycle,” with droughts, wildfires and storms all reducing the ecosystem’s ability to absorb carbon. The researchers seem to have reached a similar conclusion here:

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Perhaps even worse is that the team believes that carbon released by the destructive force of the cyclone may never be recovered. They note that past research has shown that new forest regrowth, such as has been occurring in the areas struck by Katrina, more than compensates for the loss of carbon due to dying trees. But, for places that are struck by such events that are not likely to see the trees grow back, the released carbon will never be stored in new tree growth. The Philippines experiences more cyclones than any other land mass and because of that (and population density in the area) it’s likely the impacted areas will never again see the same amount of trees. Because of that, the released carbon will simply be added to the total amount that already exists in the atmosphere, leading to even more heating of the planet.

Lindsay Abrams
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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