Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Jason C. Neff

Second Advisor

Waleed Abdalati

Third Advisor

Nichole N. Barger

Fourth Advisor

Jana B. Milford

Fifth Advisor

Michael G. Ryan


Climate change is resulting in a number of rapid changes in forests worldwide. Forests comprise a critical component of the global carbon cycle, and therefore climate-induced changes in forest carbon balance have the potential to create a feedback within the global carbon cycle and affect future trajectories of climate change. In order to further understanding of climate-driven changes in forest carbon balance, I (1) develop a method to improve spatial estimates forest carbon stocks, (2) investigate the effect of climate change and forest management actions on forest recovery and carbon balance following disturbance, and (3) explore the relationship between climate and forest growth, and identify climate-driven trends in forest growth through time, within San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, USA. I find that forest carbon estimates based on texture analysis from LandsatTM imagery improve regional forest carbon maps, and this method is particularly useful for estimating carbon stocks in forested regions affected by disturbance. Forest recovery from disturbance is also a critical component of future forest carbon stocks, and my results indicate that both climate and forest management actions have important implications for forest recovery and carbon dynamics following disturbance. Specifically, forest treatments that use woody biomass removed from the forest for electricity production can reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere, but climate driven changes in fire severity and forest recovery can have the opposite effect on forest carbon stocks. In addition to the effects of disturbance and recovery on forest condition, I also find that climate change is decreasing rates of forest growth in some species, likely in response to warming summer temperatures. These growth declines could result in changes of vegetation composition, or in extreme cases, a shift in vegetation type that would alter forest carbon storage. This work provides insight into both current and future changes in forest carbon balance as a consequence of climate change and forest management in the western US.