Summertime climate response to mountain pine beetle disturbance in British Columbia

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 27 June 2014

Abstract

The present mountain pine beetle infestation in forests in British Columbia ranks among the largest ecological disturbances recorded in Canada so far. These recent outbreaks are thought to have been favoured by large-scale climatic shifts, and may foreshadow outbreaks of a similar magnitude in North American forests over the coming decades. The associated forest dieback could result in substantial shifts in evapotranspiration and albedo, thereby altering the local surface energy balance, and in turn regional temperature and climate. Here we quantify the impact of the Canadian pine beetle disturbance on the local summertime surface energy budget, using measurements of evapotranspiration, albedo and surface temperature, obtained primarily through remote sensing. We show that over the 170,000 km2 of affected forest, the typical decrease in summertime evapotranspiration is 19%. Changes to the absorbed short-wave flux are negligible, in comparison. As a result, outgoing sensible and radiative heat fluxes increased by 8% and 1%, respectively, corresponding to a typical increase in surface temperature of 1 °C. These changes are comparable to those observed for other types of disturbance, such as wildfire, and may have secondary consequences for climate, including modifications to circulation, cloud cover and precipitation.

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Figure 1: Forest mortality between 1999 and 2010, generated from data published by the British Columbia Forest Ministry1.
Figure 2: Multi-pixel average time series for several summertime variables at the 1-km scale, segregated by the degree of forest mortality.
Figure 3: Fraser River Basin evapotranspiration time series for MODIS compared with that inferred from water balance.
Figure 4: MODIS-observed variables as a function of initial forest surface density, Σ0, and fraction of remaining live forest, flive.

Change history

  • 27 June 2014

    In the version of this Article originally published, the flive values in Fig. 4c should have been listed in the reverse order, with '0.0–0.1' corresponding to the black curve and '0.9–1.0' to the red curve, as shown below. This error has now been corrected in all online versions of the Article.

  • 27 June 2014

    Nature Geoscience 6, 65–70 (2013); published online 25 November 2012; corrected after print 27 June 2014. In the version of this Article originally published, the flive values in Fig. 4c should have been listed in the reverse order, with '0.0–0.1' corresponding to the black curve and '0.9–1.0' to the red curve, as shown below.

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Acknowledgements

This work was made possible by grants from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We acknowledge valuable exchanges with G. Bonan, S. Déry, S. Dubé, P. Lawrence, P. Link, D. Moore, J. Oyler, S. Running, M. Schnorbus, A. Swann, S. Swenson, A. Varhola and Z. Wan.

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I.F. initially conceived the project. H.M. refined the scope of the project, designed and implemented the analysis methods, and wrote the paper. P.J.K. helped brainstorm ideas throughout this process. Both I.F. and P.J.K. contributed suggestions to several early drafts of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to H. Maness.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Maness, H., Kushner, P. & Fung, I. Summertime climate response to mountain pine beetle disturbance in British Columbia. Nature Geosci 6, 65–70 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1642

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