Maria's far-reaching effects on Puerto Rico's watersheds and forests

ScienceDaily | 12/13/2018 | Staff
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With fierce winds and flooding rains, hurricanes can be disasters for people -- and for ecosystems. These devastating storms have major effects on tropical forests, demolishing tree canopies and leaving behind debris that piles up in watershed streams and on forest floors.

Scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF) co-located Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) and Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Puerto Rico spent the past year evaluating the impacts of Hurricane Maria, a powerful category 5 storm that struck Puerto Rico head-on in September 2017.

Researchers - Results - Today - Puerto - Rico

The researchers reported their results today -- Puerto Rico one year later: Hurricane Maria's lasting footprint -- at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in Washington, D.C.

After Maria, sensors measuring nitrate in streams at the NSF Luquillo CZO site showed a dramatic increase in how much of the nutrient was transported from mountain headwaters to the sea, according to biogeochemist William McDowell of the University of New Hampshire.

Nitrate - Plant - Growth - Quantities - Ecosystems

Nitrate is essential for plant growth. In large quantities, however, it can be harmful to coastal ecosystems. After major hurricanes like Maria and the tremendous changes they produce in vegetation, nitrate escapes from damaged forests and is flushed downstream, says McDowell.

"The implication of the loss of nitrogen from an ecosystem is uncertain," says McDowell, "but is likely to play a role in which trees grow back first." The downstream delivery of nitrate to coastal waters may also fuel algae blooms and, eventually, coastal dead zones.

Data

Based on data collected at the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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