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Climate-driven storms may raze many tropical forests

A new study shows that damage inflicted on trees in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria was unprecedented in modern times, and suggests that more frequent big storms whipped up by a warming climate could permanently alter forests not only here, but across much of the Atlantic tropics. Biodiversity could suffer as result, and more carbon could be added to the atmosphere, say the authors. Hurricane Maria not only destroyed far more trees than any previously studied storm; big, old trees thought to be especially resistant to storms suffered the worst. When Maria hit Puerto Rico in October 2017, it came in as a Category 4, with winds up to 155 miles per hour and up to three feet of rain in places. Many trees were denuded of foliage, snapped in half or blown clear out of the ground. The strongest storm to hit the island since 1928, Maria killed or severely damaged an estimated 20 million to 40 million trees. The researchers found that Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and broke more than three times as many trunks. Some species suffered much worse, with breakage rates up to 12 times those of previous storms.

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