In addition to wreaking incredible human devastation, Typhoon Haiyan is predicted to have unleashed a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere. A group of scientists recently published a study in Environmental Research Letters that reveals how trees killed during these super storms translate into a new source of carbon pollution and worsen the plight of an already warming planet.
Strong storms such as cyclones and hurricanes sustain fierce winds that uproot trees. As the trees die, they release carbon into the air, further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Some forests are able to revert back to carbon sinks by growing faster than storms can hit. However, scientists believe that the frequency of cyclones to occur in the Philippines and the overall extent of the damage may mean that the forests will never truly recover.
In their paper, the authors recall that Hurricane Katrina spewed 100 tons of carbon into the atmosphere after killing or damaging over 320 million trees. Typhoon Haiyan was not only a much bigger storm, but it covered a wider area, and knocked down more trees. On average, tropical cyclones have contributed a net carbon increase throughout the 20th century, and while researches have yet to crunch the numbers on exactly how much carbon has been added to the atmosphere, studies suggest the number is substantial.