Forests: Current Research

Simulating the Effects of Climate-Driven Changes in Disturbance Regimes and Productivity on Net Ecosystem Carbon Balance of Forested Landscapes



The goal of this research is to develop a landscape model that can incorporate the multiple pathways through which climate change can affect net biome production of Pacific Northwest forested landscapes. The model will allow for testing of alternative disturbance regime scenarios (e.g., combinations of forest management and changing fire severity, frequency, and extent) and changes to net ecosystem productivity (NEP) that may be expected with projected changes in temperature and precipitation in the Pacific Northwest. We focus on the relative effects of potential changes in disturbance regimes and productivity on the carbon balance of forested landscapes rather than exact predictions of total C storage and NEP or their spatial patterns.

The central element to model predictions is the effect of changing fire regimes, specifically predicted annual area burned, on the distribution of forest age classes across the landscape. We use the predictions of Littell et al. (in press) to estimate future area burned. The effects of these scenarios (we expect a shift toward younger age classes) can then be evaluated to determine the cumulative impact on carbon stores and fluxes. The scale of the landscapes to be evaluated will be management units (104 106 hectares). Therefore, this research will aid land managers in determining how net biome production within the boundaries of management units may be affected by future changes in disturbance regimes and productivity. The scale of this analysis will provide information that is conducive to making land management decisions for mitigating and adapting to climate change in forests.


U.S. Forest Service, University of Washington College of Forest Resources, Oregon State University, U.S. Geological Survey

Primary Funding


Related Publications

For publications on climate impacts on PNW forest ecosystems, please see CIG Publications.

McKenzie, D., D.L. Peterson, and J.S. Littell. 2009. Global warming and stress complexes in forests of western North America. . pp. 319-337. In S. V. Krupa (series editor), Developments in Environmental Science, Vol. 8, Wild Land Fires and Air Pollution, A. Bytnerowicz, M. Arbaugh, A. Riebau, and C. Anderson (eds.). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier Science, Ltd.

Littell, J.S., D. McKenzie, D.L. Peterson, and A.L. Westerling. 2009. Climate and wildfire area burned in Western U.S. ecoprovinces, 1916-2003. Ecological Applications 19(4): 10031021.