Simulating Impacts of Ice Storms on Forest Ecosystems

John L. Campbell1, Lindsey E. Rustad1, Charles T. Driscoll2, Ian Halm3, Timothy J. Fahey4, Habibollah Fakhraei5, Peter M. Groffman6,7, Gary J. Hawley8, Wendy Leuenberger9, Paul G. Schaberg10
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Abstract

Ice storms can have profound and lasting effects on the structure and function of forest ecosystems in regions that experience freezing conditions. Current models suggest that the frequency and intensity of ice storms could increase over the coming decades in response to changes in climate, heightening interest in understanding their impacts. Because of the stochastic nature of ice storms and difficulties in predicting when and where they will occur, most past investigations of the ecological effects of ice storms have been based on case studies following major storms. Since intense ice storms are exceedingly rare events it is impractical to study them by waiting for their natural occurrence. Here we present a novel alternative experimental approach, involving the simulation of glaze ice events on forest plots under field conditions. With this method, water is pumped from a stream or lake and sprayed above the forest canopy when air temperatures are below freezing. The water rains down and freezes upon contact with cold surfaces. As the ice accumulates on trees, the boles and branches bend and break; damage that can be quantified through comparisons with untreated reference stands. The experimental approach described is advantageous because it enables control over the timing and amount of ice applied. Creating ice storms of different frequency and intensity makes it possible to identify critical ecological thresholds necessary for predicting and preparing for ice storm impacts.