China: Landslides following Earthquakes have massive carbon footprint

The expected carbon dioxide release from the mudslides following the
Wenchuan earthquake is similar to that caused by Hurricane Katrina’s
plant damage, report Diandong Ren, of the University of Texas at
Austin, and his colleagues, who used a computer model to predict the
ecosystem impacts of the mudslides.

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What’s more, the vegetation destruction will lead to a loss of
nitrogen from the quake-devastated region’s ecosystem twice as large
as the loss of that nutrient from California ecosystems because of the
October 2007 wildfires there, Ren says. And, as the biomass buried by
the China quake rots, 14 percent of the nitrogen will be spewed into
the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a pollutant typically released from
agricultural operations, automobiles, and other sources.

The team will
publish its findings on 4 March 2009 in Geophysical Research Letters,
a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Although landscapes
devastated by the Chinese earthquake may re-green soon, the recovery
will be cosmetic, says Ren.

“From above, the area will look green in a
few years, because grass grows back quickly, but the soil nutrients
recover very slowly, and other kinds of plants won’t grow,” he says.
The magnitude-7.9 Wenchuan quake was followed by many aftershocks in
the Sichuan Basin, an area that, because of its geological features –
deep valleys enclosed by high mountains with steep slopes – is already
prone to landslides.

May is also the rainy season in Sichuan, and the
combination of aftershocks and major precipitation events in the days
following the earthquake caused severe mudslides. The avalanches
killed thousands, destroyed roads and blocked rivers and access to
relief, and shredded water and power stations, among other facilities.

To predict ecosystem impacts of the mudslides, Ren and his
collaborators applied a comprehensive computer model of landslides
that incorporates several physical parameters, such as soil mechanics,
root mechanical reinforcement (the root’s grip of the dirt, which
mitigates erosion), and precipitation.

Ren’s model also shows that the
primary mudslides following the earthquake removed large areas of
nutrient-rich topsoil, leaving behind deep scars in the land that will
take decades to recover, preventing the re-growth of vegetation.

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Comments (3)

BrandieJuly 9th, 2009 at 9:23 am

Arent people stupid for building on ground that is unstable. Theses people are just looking for another disaster to happen.

Steve HillAugust 5th, 2009 at 2:03 am

I do not think that is the point – people have always built and live where they shouldn’t, stupid yes – but the concern here is that the earthquake can affect the whole planet as it is a blow in the fight against human induced climate change.

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