Albedo-induced radiative forcing from mountain pine beetle outbreaks in forests, south-central Rocky Mountains: magnitude, persistence, and relation to outbreak severity
Abstract. Mountain pine beetle (MPB) outbreaks in North America are widespread and have potentially persistent impacts on forest albedo and associated radiative forcing. This study utilized multiple data sets, both current and historical, within lodgepole pine stands in the south-central Rocky Mountains to quantify the full radiative forcing impact of outbreak events for decades after outbreak (0–60 yr) and the role of outbreak severity in determining that impact. Change in annual albedo and radiative forcing peaked at 14–20 yr post-outbreak (0.06 ± 0.006 and −0.8 ± 0.1 W m−2, respectively) and recovered to pre-outbreak levels by 30–40 yr post-outbreak. Change in albedo was significant in all four seasons, but strongest in winter with the increased visibility of snow (radiative cooling of −1.6 ± 0.2 W m−2, −3.0 ± 0.4 W m−2, and −1.6 ± 0.2 W m−2 for 2–13, 14–20 and 20–30 yr post-outbreak, respectively). Change in winter albedo and radiative forcing also increased with outbreak severity (percent tree mortality). Persistence of albedo effects are seen as a function of the growth rate and species composition of surviving trees, and the establishment and growth of both understory herbaceous vegetation and tree species, all of which may vary with outbreak severity. The establishment and persistence of deciduous trees was found to increase the temporal persistence of albedo effects. MPB-induced changes to radiative forcing may have feedbacks for regional temperature and the hydrological cycle, which could impact future MPB outbreaks dynamics.