On Feb. 16, the Harris Center, a New Hampshire conservation center dedicated to education, teamed up with KSC’s environmental studies department to bring in a research ecologist, who has been studying ice storms in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
For the past two years, people at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest have been testing the effects of ice storms on New Hampshire native forests.
Little is known about ice storms besides this research. It is impossible to predict when an ice storm will happen. When they do happen, according to Lindsey Rustad, the ecologist and team leader of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, people are often stuck inside their homes until the ice melts because conditions outside are too dangerous to travel.
She added that ice storms are deadly, caus major damage to infrastructure and accounting for 60 percent of winter losses.
KSC junior Andrew Clark said he came to the lecture to learn more about ice storms and said they “were a lot more severe than I had initially thought. I thought they were similar to snow storms, but they have a much more severe impact on the forests.”
One prediction scientists make about climate change is that extreme weather events will become more common. In New Hampshire, this research is necessary in order to understand how much of an impact ice storms have on our northern temperate and boreal forests.
The Ice Storm Experiment (ISE) experiment in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest consisted of 10 plots of land that were sprayed with water in freezing cold temperatures to simulate natural ice storms. Each plot was given different amounts of ice to study different intensities of storms.
“I’m in awe of the scale of the planning and the detail,” said Project Manager of Professional and Graduate Studies at KSC Betsy Street.
The results of the experiment showed that the forest was able to bounce back to an extent. The canopy was more and more thinned out after every trial. Also, the hardwood trees had a much harder time getting back to normal than the softwood. “These trees are going to lose their carbon reserves, so think about every time you get a big ice storm and you rip off all these little buds. The next summer, you have a loss of canopy greenness. You don’t have as many leaves, so that means that these trees are photosynthesising less carbon, so they’re at a disadvantage. They are growing slower, so if you have more and more of these storms, it can affect the overall growth of the forest,” said Rustad.
Rustad said places like Keene have a cold air damming effect. Keene is in a valley and has mountains surrounding it. Cold air gets trapped in the valley because it is heavier than warm air.
As rain falls through the sky, it is heated by the warm air, then it goes down into the valley where it is chilled very quickly, causing it to freeze. This causes an ice storm.
She said as more of these extreme weather events occur, Keene will see a major increase in ice storms. This will affect the forests and residents.
While there is not much to do about stopping them, understanding these weather patterns is the only way to understand the changes and challenges Keene is going to face.
Alyssa Salerno can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org