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An observational and modeling study of impacts of bark beetle-caused tree mortality on surface energy and hydrological cycles


Fei Chen
Guo Zhang
Michael Barlage
Ying Zhang
Jeffrey A. Hicke
Arjan Meddens
Guangsheng Zhou



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Journal of Hydrometeorology. 16: 744-761.


Bark beetle outbreaks have killed billions of trees and affected millions of hectares of forest during recent decades. The objective of this study was to quantify responses of surface energy and hydrologic fluxes 2-3 yr following a spruce beetle outbreak using measurements and modeling. The authors used observations at the Rocky Mountains Glacier Lakes Ecosystem Experiments Site (GLEES), where beetles killed 85% of the basal area of spruce from 2005-07 (prebeetle) to 2009/10 (postbeetle). Observations showed increased albedo following tree mortality, more reflected solar radiation, and less net radiation, but these postoutbreak radiation changes are smaller than or comparable to their annual preoutbreak variability. The dominant signals from observations were a large reduction (27%) in summer daytime evaporation and a large increase (25%) in sensible heat fluxes. Numerous Noah LSM with multiparameterization options (Noah-MP) simulations incorporating beetle-caused tree mortality effects were conducted to assess their impact on the surface hydrological cycle components that were not directly observed. Model results revealed substantial seasonal variations: more spring snowmelt and runoff, less spring-summer transpiration, and drier soil in summer and fall. This modeled trend is similar to observed runoff changes in harvested forests where reduced forest density resulted in more spring snowmelt and annual water yields. Model results showed that snow albedo changes due to increased litter cover beneath killed trees altered the seasonal pattern of simulated snowmelt and snow water equivalent, but these changes are small compared to the effect of leaf loss. This study highlights the need to include the transient effects of forest disturbances in modeling land-atmosphere interactions and their potential impacts on regional weather and climate.


Chen, Fei; Zhang, Guo; Barlage, Michael; Zhang, Ying; Hicke, Jeffrey A.; Meddens, Arjan; Zhou, Guangsheng; Massman, William J.; Frank, John. 2015. An observational and modeling study of impacts of bark beetle-caused tree mortality on surface energy and hydrological cycles. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 16: 744-761.


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