Puerto Rico’s forests and Hurricane Maria

This NASA video says about itself:

NASA Surveys Hurricane Damage to Puerto Rico’s Forests

11 July 2018

From NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in the USA:

NASA surveys hurricane damage to Puerto Rico’s forests

July 11, 2018

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico with winds of up to 155 miles per hour and battering rain that flooded towns, knocked out communications networks and destroyed the power grid. In the rugged central mountains and the lush northeast, Maria unleashed its fury as fierce winds completely defoliated the tropical forests and broke and uprooted trees. Heavy rainfall triggered thousands of landslides that mowed over swaths of steep mountainsides.

In April a team of NASA scientists traveled to Puerto Rico with airborne instrumentation to survey damages from Hurricane Maria to the island’s forests.

“From the air, the scope of the hurricane’s damages was startling”, said NASA Earth scientist Bruce Cook, who led the campaign. “The dense, interlocking canopies that blanketed the island before the storm were reduced to a tangle of downed trees and isolated survivors, stripped of their branches.”

NASA’s Earth-observing satellites monitor the world’s forests to detect seasonal changes in vegetation cover or abrupt forest losses from deforestation, but at spatial and time scales that are too coarse to see changes. To get a more detailed look, NASA flew an airborne instrument called Goddard’s Lidar, Hyperspectral and Thermal Imager, or G-LiHT. From the belly of a small aircraft flying one thousand feet above the trees, G-LiHT collected multiple measurements of forests across the island, including high-resolution photographs, surface temperatures and the heights and structure of the vegetation.

The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA provided funding for the airborne campaign.

The team flew many of the same tracks with G-LiHT as it had in the spring of 2017, months before Hurricane Maria made landfall, as part of a study of how tropical forests regrow on abandoned agricultural land. The before-and-after comparison shows forests across the island still reeling from the hurricane’s impact.

Using lidar, a ranging system that fires 600,000 laser pulses per second, the team measured changes in the height and structure of the Puerto Rican forests. The damage is palpable. Forests near the city of Arecibo on the northern side of the island grow on limestone hills with little soil to stabilize trees. As a result, the hurricane snapped or uprooted 60 percent of the trees there. In the northeast, on the slopes of El Yunque National Forest, the hurricane trimmed the forests, reducing their average height by one-third.

Data from G-LiHT is not only being used to capture the condition of the island’s forests; it is an important research tool for scientists who are tracking how the forests are changing as they recover from such a major event.

“[Hurricane] Maria pressed the reset button on many of the different processes that develop forests over time”, said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and G-LiHT co-investigator. “Now we’re watching a lot of those processes in fast-forward speeds as large areas of the island are recovering, with surviving trees and new seedlings basking in full sunlight.”

Among the areas that the team flew over extensively was El Yunque National Forest, which Hurricane Maria struck at full force. The U.S. Forest Service manages El Yunque, a tropical rainforest, as well as its designated research plots, which were established in the late 1930s. University and government scientists perform all manner of research, including measuring individual trees to track their growth, counting flowers and seeds to monitor reproduction, and analyzing soil samples to track the nutrients needed for plant growth.

One important assessment of a tree’s health is its crown, which comprises the overall shape of a treetop, with its branches, stems and leaves. Hurricane winds can heavily damage tree crowns and drastically reduce the number of leaves for creating energy through photosynthesis.

“Just seven months after the storm, surviving trees are flushing new leaves and regrowing branches in order to regain their ability to harvest sunlight through photosynthesis”, Morton said, while also noting that the survival of damaged trees in the years ahead is an open question.

While it’s difficult to assess tree crowns in detail from the ground, from the air G-LiHT’s lidar instrument can derive the shape and structure of all of the trees in its flight path. The airborne campaign over Puerto Rico was extensive enough to provide information on the structure and composition of the overall forest canopy, opening up a range of research possibilities.

“Severe storms like Maria will favor some species and destroy others”, said Maria Uriarte, an ecologist at Columbia University who has studied El Yunque National Forest for 15 years and is working with the NASA team to validate flight data with ground observations. “Plot level studies tell us how this plays out in a small area but the damage at any particular place depends on proximity to the storm’s track, topography, soils and the characteristics of each forest patch. This makes it hard to generalize to other forests in the island.”

But with G-LiHT data scientists can study the storm impacts over a much larger area, Uriarte continued. “What’s really exciting is that we can ask a completely different set of questions,” she said. “Why does one area have more damage than others? What species are being affected the most across the island?”

Understanding the state of the forest canopy also has far-reaching implications for the rest of the ecosystem, as tree cover is critical to the survival of many species. For example, birds such as the native Iguaca parrot use the canopy to hide from predator hawks. The canopy also creates a cooler, humid environment that is conducive to the growth of tree seedlings and lizards and frogs that inhabit the forest floor. Streams that are cooled by the dense shade also make them habitable for a wide diversity of other organisms.

Yet by that same token, other plants and animals that were once at a disadvantage are now benefiting from changes brought about by the loss of canopy.

“Some lizards live in the canopy, where they thrive in drier, more sunlit conditions”, said herpetologist Neftali Ríos-López, an associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao Campus. “Because of the hurricane those drier conditions that were once exclusive to the canopy are now extended down to the forest floor. As a result, those animals are better adapted to those conditions and have started displacing and substituting animals that are adapted to the once cooler conditions.”

“Who are the winners and losers in this new environment? That’s an important question in all of this”, said NASA’s Doug Morton. During the airborne campaign, he spent several days in the research plots of El Yunque taking three-dimensional images of the forest floor to complement the data from G-LiHT. He said it’s clear that the palms, which weathered the hurricane winds better than other broad-leafed trees, are among the current beneficiaries of the now sun-drenched forest. And that’s not a bad thing.

“Palm trees are going to form a major component of the canopy of this forest for the next decade or more, and in some ways they’ll help to facilitate the recovery of the rest of this forest”, Morton said. “Palms provide a little bit of shade and protection for the flora and fauna that are recolonizing the area. That’s encouraging.”

The implications of this research extend beyond the forest ecosystem, both in time and space, said Grizelle Gonzalez, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and project lead for the research plots in El Yunque. As an example, she pointed out that the hurricane caused the mountain streams to flood and fill with sediment that ultimately flowed into the ocean. Sediment can negatively impact the quality of the drinking water as well as the coral communities that fisheries depend on for both subsistence and commerce.

“It’s beautiful to see that so many federal agencies came together to collaborate on this important work because forests play a key role in everything from biodiversity and the economy to public health”, Gonzalez said.

G-LiHT data also has global implications. In July, the team heads to Alaska to continue surveying the vast forestland in the state’s interior to better understand the impacts of accelerated Arctic warming on boreal forests, which, in turn, play a key role in cooling Earth’s climate by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. “G-LiHT allows us to collect research data at the scale of individual trees across broad landscapes,” Morton said. “Forests from Alaska to Puerto Rico are constantly changing in response to climate warming and disturbances such as fire and hurricanes.”

Hurricane Maria gave ecologists rare chance to study how tropical dry forests recover: here.

Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98 percent of ground insects had vanished. “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet,” he said.

Global warming will increase the severity of hurricanes: here.

TRUMP PRAISES MARIA RESPONSE DESPITE HUGE DEATH TOLL Trump praised his administration for its controversial response to Hurricane Maria, calling it “an incredible unsung success.” Puerto Rican authorities recently increased the death toll linked to the storm from 64 to 2,975. [HuffPost]

6 thoughts on “Puerto Rico’s forests and Hurricane Maria

  1. Pingback: Caribbean lizards, victims and survivors of hurricanes | Dear Kitty. Some blog


    Join Rafael Cancel Miranda and other Puerto Rican and international personalities and organizations at the People’s Tribunal on U.S. Crimes Against Puerto Rico

    Grass Roots Organizations to hold a People’s Tribunal on October 27, 2018, at the Holyrood Church/Iglesia Santa Cruz, New York City


    July 2018

    Since the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria of September 2017, the world has heard of Puerto Rico’s economic, social and environmental crisis. This crisis is not new nor even due primarily to the hurricanes, but is the culmination of the savage colonialist domination and capitalist exploitation that the United States of America has imposed ever since its 1898 military invasion of Puerto Rico.

    On October 27, 2018, activists and witnesses from Puerto Rico (including eyewitnesses to US crimes), the Puerto Rican diaspora, the US and the world, will meet in New York City to take part in a colonial crimes tribunal. The tribunal will present a people’s investigation of the role of the US government during its 120-year colonial rule, and particularly since the hurricane’s devastation put Puerto Rico in the world’s media. They will be joined by renowned Nicaraguan legal scholar and attorney Dr. Augusto Zamora, who will serve as prosecutor, and a distinguished jury of US and international human rights leaders.


    What is happening now in Puerto Rico is the culmination of a process of national destruction that began with the US military invasion of Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. Almost immediately the US commenced destruction of Puerto Rico’s autonomous economy, suppression of historical knowledge, and repression of the independence movement. US colonial rule imposed a parasitic economic model that blocked self-sufficient development. The US imposed its own citizenship, which provided cheap labor as well as cannon fodder for its bloody imperialist wars. Puerto Rico’s economic dismantling continues today, with the US imposition of an illegitimate and unpayable public debt, and since 2016 the Fiscal Control Board (called “La Junta” in Puerto Rico) created by Congress’ “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA). The Junta’s members represent colonial government and corporate interests who ran up the debt and sold out to Wall Street. This is like putting wolves in charge of sheep.

    The world has heard of Puerto Rico’s crisis as a result of the September 2017 hurricanes, which demonstrated the power of nature and the failure of capitalism to prioritize the most basic of needs: our planet’s health. But the aftermath of the hurricanes also demonstrated the criminal cruelty with which the US has responded to devastation by speeding up its plans to restructure Puerto Rico for corporate and imperialist profit. Nearly a year after the hurricanes, Puerto Rico has not made real progress in its recovery. On the contrary, “real progress” refers to imposing the most terrible austerity policies, from privatization of basic services such as electricity and education, to cost of living increases while reducing benefits, pensions, and workplace security. The Puerto Rican people are being suffocated by a neoliberal economic policy, combined with a colonial political status that sequesters its sovereignty in Washington. On the one hand, the US does not provide the necessary disaster recovery assistance, while on the other hand, prohibits the entry of solidarity aid from neighboring countries.

    This is the colonial, neoliberal vision of a thoroughly privatized Puerto Rico; vision that the current policies regarding the reforms of education and other essential services contemplate: A country being bought up and “resettled” by vulture capitalists and other foreign billionaires, with the sole purpose of increasing their income free of all restrictions, free of taxes or oversight, who are served by impoverished, poorly educated, politically repressed youth. With a diminished population since thousands of Boricuas have been forced to migrate in order to survive. This vision contemplates a Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans – echoing the martyred independence leader Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos’ warning that the US “wanted the cage without the bird.” Ethnic cleansing and population substitution are recognized internationally as war crimes.

    It is for the Puerto Rican movement – for decolonization, for independence and sovereignty, for social and economic justice – to give a strong response to this assault. As part of this effort, our international tribunal proposal aims to expose the policies and their consequences, for which the US has an enormous responsibility.

    The Puerto Rico Tribunal AdHoc Committee is convening this important colonial crimes tribunal in order to expose the true nature of the U.S. war against Puerto Rico. This call for action is not made solely for the sake of posterity, but also seeks to strengthen the worldwide struggle for self-determination today. What is happening in Puerto Rico is different only in scale and duration from US-perpetrated destruction elsewhere.

    Only a people’s campaign in solidarity with the Puerto Rican struggle for decolonization, self-determination, and justice can begin to end the continued U.S. presence and domination not only of Puerto Rico, but in the Caribbean, Latin America and elsewhere. We hope that your organization can endorse this very important organizing effort and can join with us on October 27th in New York City.

    What you can do:

    TO ENDORSE THIS CALL for the People’s Tribunal on U.S. Crimes against Puerto Rico, e-mail: TribunalPuertoRico@gmail.com and type:
    Puerto Rico Tribunal in the subject line. Or fill out the following form at: puertoricotribunal.org/endorse/

     YES, I can contribute to help this mobilization (suggested donation for endorsing organizations: $100, $50, or $25 depending on ability)

    Donations can be sent to
    Puerto Rico Tribunal,
    P.O. box 34249, Philadelphia Pa 19101
    or online: gofundme.com.tribunalpuertorico

     YES, I can organize transportation to NYC and be an organizing center for the mobilization.

     Please, send me literature by mail to help promote the October 27th Tribunal.

    Copy and paste email reply to TribunalPuertoRico@gmail.com

    Facebook: Puerto Rico Tribunal

    LLAMADO A LA ACCIÓN, Julio de 2018

    Únase a Rafael Cancel Miranda y otras personalidades y organizaciones puertorriqueñas e internacionales en el TRIBUNAL del PUEBLO SOBRE CRÍMENES DE LOS ESTADOS UNIDOS CONTRA PUERTO RICO,
    el 27 de octubre de 2018, en la Iglesia Holyrood/Iglesia Santa Cruz, Ciudad de Nueva York

    Desde la devastación de los huracanes Irma y María en septiembre de 2017, el mundo se ha enterado de la crisis económica, social y ambiental de Puerto Rico. Esta crisis no es nueva, ni siquiera se debe principalmente a los huracanes, sino que es la culminación de la salvaje dominación colonialista y la explotación capitalista impuesta por los Estados Unidos de América desde su invasión militar en 1898 a Puerto Rico.

    El 27 de octubre de 2018, activistas y testigos de Puerto Rico, de la diáspora puertorriqueña, de EUA y del mundo, se reunirán en la ciudad de Nueva York para participar de un tribunal de crímenes de colonialismo. El tribunal presentará una investigación del pueblo sobre el papel del gobierno de los Estados Unidos durante su dominio colonial por 120 años, y particularmente desde que la devastación de los huracanes. A ellos se unirán el renombrado jurista y abogado nicaragüense Dr. Augusto Zamora, quien servirá como fiscal, y un distinguido jurado de líderes de derechos humanos estadounidenses e internacionales.


    Lo que sucede ahora en Puerto Rico es la culminación de un proceso de destrucción nacional que comenzó el 25 de julio de 1898, con la invasión militar estadounidense. De inmediato comenzaron la destrucción de la economía autónoma de Puerto Rico, la supresión del conocimiento histórico y represión del movimiento de independencia. El dominio colonial estadounidense impuso un modelo económico parasitario que bloqueó el desarrollo autosuficiente. Estados Unidos le impuso su propia ciudadanía al pueblo puertorriqueño, que proporcionó mano de obra barata y carne de cañón para sus sangrientas guerras imperialistas. El desmantelamiento económico de Puerto Rico continúa hoy, con la imposición estadounidense de una deuda pública ilegítima e impagable, y desde 2016 la Junta de Control Fiscal creada por la ley del congreso estadounidense conocida como “PROMESA.” Esa Junta incluye oficiales que ayudaron a crear la deuda y se la vendieron a los buitres de Wall Street. Éste es como poner los lobos a cargo de las ovejas.

    Los huracanes demostraron el poder de la naturaleza y el fracaso del capitalismo para priorizar las necesidades más básicas: la salud de nuestro planeta. Pero las secuelas de los huracanes también demostraron la crueldad criminal con la que Estados Unidos respondió a la devastación, al acelerar sus planes de reestructurar Puerto Rico para obtener ganancias corporativas e imperialistas. Casi un año después de los huracanes, Puerto Rico no ha logrado su recuperación. Por el contrario, el “progreso real” se refiere a la imposición de las políticas de austeridad más terribles, desde la privatización de servicios básicos como la electricidad y la educación, hasta aumentos del costo de la vida y la reducción de beneficios, pensiones y seguridad en el lugar de trabajo. El pueblo puertorriqueño está siendo sofocado por una política económica neoliberal, combinada con un estatus político colonial que mantiene secuestrada su soberanía en Wáshington. Estados Unidos no brinda la asistencia necesaria para la recuperación, sin embargo prohíbe la entrada de ayuda solidaria desde los países vecinos.

    Esta es la visión neoliberal y colonial para un Puerto Rico completamente privatizado que las políticas actuales con respecto a las reformas de educación y otros servicios esenciales contemplan: un país comprado y “reasentado” por capitalistas buitres y otros multimillonarios extranjeros, libres de impuestos o supervisión, que son atendidos por jóvenes empobrecidos, mal educados y políticamente reprimidos. Con una población disminuida ya que miles de Boricuas (puertorriqueños) serán obligados a emigrar para poder sobrevivir. Así que vislumbran también un Puerto Rico sin puertorriqueños, haciéndose eco de la advertencia del líder de la independencia martirizado, el Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, de que Estados Unidos “quiere la jaula, pero no los pájaros”. La limpieza étnica y la sustitución de población son reconocidos internacionalmente como crímenes.

    Corresponde al movimiento puertorriqueño por la descolonización, la independencia y la soberanía y por la justicia, responderle de forma contundente. Como parte de ese esfuerzo, nuestra propuesta para un tribunal internacional tiene como objetivo exponer las políticas nefastas y sus consecuencias, para las cuales Estados Unidos tiene una enorme responsabilidad.

    El Comité Ad Hoc del Tribunal de Puerto Rico está convocando a este importante tribunal.. Este llamado a la acción no se realiza únicamente para la posteridad, sino que también busca fortalecer la lucha actual por la autodeterminación a nivel mundial. Lo que está ocurriendo en Puerto Rico es diferente solamente en escala y duración, a la destrucción perpetrada por los EUA en otros lugares.

    Solamente una campaña del pueblo en solidaridad con la lucha puertorriqueña por la descolonización, la autodeterminación y la justicia puede comenzar a ponerle fin a la continua presencia y dominación de los Estados Unidos, no solo en Puerto Rico, sino en el Caribe, en América Latina y en otros países. Esperamos que su organización pueda respaldar este importante esfuerzo organizativo, y pueda unirse a nosotros el 27 de octubre en la ciudad de Nueva York.

    PARA RESPALDAR ESTE LLAMADO al Tribunal del Pueblo envíe un correo electrónico a: TribunalPuertoRico@gmail.com y escriba: Tribunal de Puerto Rico en la línea de asunto. O complete el siguiente formulario: puertoricotribunal.org/endorse/

     Sí, puedo contribuir para ayudar en esta movilización (donación sugerida para organizaciones patrocinadoras: $100, $50 o $25 dependiendo de la capacidad)
    Las donaciones pueden enviarse por correo postal al Tribunal sobre Puerto Rico,
    P.O. Box 34249, Philadelphia, PA 19101
    o en línea: gofundme.com/tribunalpuertorico

     Sí, puedo organizar el transporte a la ciudad de Nueva York y ser un centro organizador para la movilización.

     Por favor, envíeme literatura por correo para ayudar a promover el Tribunal del 27 de octubre.

    Para responder, copie y pegue este mensaje y:TribunalPuertoRico@gmail.com y escriba:
    Tribunal de Puerto Rico en la línea de asunto

    Para obtener la lista completa de convocantes del Tribunal, visite nuestro sitio web: PuertoRicoTribunal.org

    Visite nuestra página en Facebook: Puerto Rico Tribunal

    Comuníquese por Skype: Tribunal Puerto Rico

    Para más información escriba a: TribunalPuertoRico@gmail.com


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