Organic carbon export in the form of wood during an extreme tropical storm, Upper Rio Chagres, Panama


Correspondence to: Ellen Wohl, Department of Geosciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1482, USA. E-mail:


Widespread, intense rainfall over the Upper Rio Chagres watershed (414 km2) in central Panama during December 2010 triggered numerous landslides that introduced large numbers of trees to the river network. We flew by helicopter along the mainstem Upper Chagres and the adjacent margins of Lake Alhajuela, into which the Upper Chagres flows, in February and June 2011. We used low-elevation video photography from these flights to tally the number of wood pieces stored along the lake margin and within the channel, and the number of landslides reaching the mainstem. We used these tallies with ground-verified estimates of average wood piece size and landslide surface area, and assumptions about wood density, carbon content, and aboveground biomass, to develop a first-order estimate of carbon export in the form of wood from the Upper Chagres following the 2010 storms. Based on the wood tally, we estimate 9 · 6 to 16 Mg C/km2 export, and from the landslide tally we estimate 24 Mg C/km2. We believe the landslide tally provides a more accurate minimum estimate of carbon export from the Upper Chagres during the December 2010 storms. These values are an order of magnitude higher than limited data for average or background rates of wood-based carbon export from other catchments, but two orders of magnitude lower than wood-based carbon export during extreme storms in Taiwan. The findings suggest that duration of flood flow above a threshold for mobilizing wood within the channel network exerts a more important control on wood export from the Upper Chagres than magnitude of flood peak. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.