Contributed by Annie Cooper
My name is Annie Cooper, and I am a graduate student in the Department of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana. My research focuses on the interactions between climate, carbon, and ecological disturbances. More specifically, I look at how bark beetle epidemics can impact the ability of forests to take up and store carbon dioxide. Bark beetles can be a significant disturbance on the landscape, despite their diminutive size. When bark beetles reach epidemic levels, as they have recently, they have the potential to kill massive quantities of trees. Diminished numbers of live trees may lead to lower levels of carbon sequestration by the affected forest for a period of time. I use remote sensing, field data, and computer models to quantify the impacts of bark beetle attacks on forest carbon stocks and fluxes around the western United States. Right now, I am using satellite data combined with aerial imagery to determine the biomass contained in beetle-killed wood in forests across the West. The satellite data provides information on decreases in vegetation “greenness,” indicating tree death, and aerial imagery provided by the Forest Service documents the extent and location of beetle outbreaks. I will use the biomass information to determine the amount of carbon dioxide that might be released from affected areas into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition or combustion of dead wood. This information is important because it can help to inform management decisions such as whether or not to harvest dead trees, or how to assign carbon credits in the future.