New NSF grant will explore the dynamics of landslides, wind, and carbon in the dense forests of Alaska

A newly funded collaborative project between the University of Alaska Southeast and Portland State University is going to explore the role of landslides and wind disturbances in landscape carbon distribution.  Landslides move a lot of debris - most people think of them as primarily a movement of earth, but in some areas (forests) they move a ton of carbon, in the soil yes, but also in the trees they bring down.

 Starrigaven landslide, photo Sitka Conservation Society

Starrigaven landslide, photo Sitka Conservation Society

The role of those debris in controlling how the landslide moves and travels is relatively unknown, and so Adam Booth, a geologist at PSU, is going to be building a modeling framework to incorporate woody debris into landslide mechanics.  Meanwhile, I will be leading an effort to explore the carbon implications of those movements and incorporate that into the model as well.  When completed, we will then model the entire landscape to understand what role these disturbances play (over long time spans) in the spatial distribution and movement of carbon in these world-class carbon storehouses.

 Kramer landslide in Sitka, 2015.  It killed three people.  Photo KCAW.

Kramer landslide in Sitka, 2015.  It killed three people.  Photo KCAW.

There's more implications here than just carbon and forests.  Landslides kill people, and have recently, in southeast Alaska and around the world.  Many cities, in the US and abroad, are exposed to landslides. By being able to better predict their movement, travel distance, and route, as well as how the forest plays a role in stability or destructiveness, we will be better able to help municipalities plan for these natural events (only expected to get worse as climate change increases the frequency of intense rainfall events in many locations).