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A carbon balance model for the great dismal swamp ecosystem

January 25, 2017


Carbon storage potential has become an important consideration for land management and planning in the United States. The ability to assess ecosystem carbon balance can help land managers understand the benefits and tradeoffs between different management strategies. This paper demonstrates an application of the Land Use and Carbon Scenario Simulator (LUCAS) model developed for local-scale land management at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. We estimate the net ecosystem carbon balance by considering past ecosystem disturbances resulting from storm damage, fire, and land management actions including hydrologic inundation, vegetation clearing, and replanting.


We modeled the annual ecosystem carbon stock and flow rates for the 30-year historic time period of 1985–2015, using age-structured forest growth curves and known data for disturbance events and management activities. The 30-year total net ecosystem production was estimated to be a net sink of 0.97 Tg C. When a hurricane and six historic fire events were considered in the simulation, the Great Dismal Swamp became a net source of 0.89 Tg C. The cumulative above and below-ground carbon loss estimated from the South One and Lateral West fire events totaled 1.70 Tg C, while management activities removed an additional 0.01 Tg C. The carbon loss in below-ground biomass alone totaled 1.38 Tg C, with the balance (0.31 Tg C) coming from above-ground biomass and detritus.


Natural disturbances substantially impact net ecosystem carbon balance in the Great Dismal Swamp. Through alternative management actions such as re-wetting, below-ground biomass loss may have been avoided, resulting in the added carbon storage capacity of 1.38 Tg. Based on two model assumptions used to simulate the peat system, (a burn scar totaling 70 cm in depth, and the soil carbon accumulation rate of 0.36 t C/ha−1/year−1 for Atlantic white cedar), the total soil carbon loss from the South One and Lateral West fires would take approximately 1740 years to re-amass. Due to the impractical time horizon this presents for land managers, this particular loss is considered permanent. Going forward, the baseline carbon stock and flow parameters presented here will be used as reference conditions to model future scenarios of land management and disturbance.

Publication Year 2017
Title A carbon balance model for the great dismal swamp ecosystem
DOI 10.1186/s13021-017-0070-4
Authors Rachel Sleeter, Benjamin M. Sleeter, Brianna Williams, Dianna M. Hogan, Todd Hawbaker, Zhiliang Zhu
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Carbon Balance and Management
Index ID 70180205
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Geographic Science Center