Pedologic and geomorphic impacts of a tornado blowdown event in a mixed pine-hardwood forest

Jonathan D. Phillips, Daniel A. Marion, Alice V. Turkington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Biomechanical effects of trees on soils and surface processes may be extensive in forest environments. Two blowdown sites caused by a November 2005 tornado in the Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas allowed a case study examination of bioturbation associated with a specific forest blowdown event, as well as detailed examination of relationships between tree root systems, soils, and underlying bedrock. The sites occur within mixed shortleaf pine and hardwood forests. More than 95% of trees in the severe blowdown areas were either uprooted or suffered trunk break, with uprooting more common than breakage. Within the most heavily damaged areas all uprooted trees were pines, while all trees left standing were hardwoods. Root wads of uprooted trees had a mean surface area of about 3 m2 and volume of about 2 m3, though individual sizes were quite variable. Nearly 4% of the ground surface area was affected by uprootings, with a soil volume equivalent to a disturbance of the entire surface area to a depth of 2.4 cm. Tree size (as measured by diameter at breast height) was significantly related to the area and volume of root wads (R2 = 0.55, 0.71, respectively), with volume of uprooted soil varying as diameter to the ~ 3 power, suggesting that the timing of blowdown events relative to tree age or growth stage significantly influences the area of disturbance and the mass and volume of material involved. In 93% of cases the roots of the uprooted trees contacted or penetrated the underlying bedrock, and in all those cases bedrock was quarried by uprooting. Only 11% of the tree throws showed evidence of general lateral root turning at the soil-bedrock interface; in most cases roots penetrated bedrock along joints. The propensity for tree roots to penetrate bedrock joints, facilitate weathering, and excavate bedrock during uprooting supports the idea that tree roots play a predominant role in locally deepening soils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-287
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 15 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by cost-share funding from the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station. “Johnny Ouachita” Davenport assisted with fieldwork. Ken Luckow, Donnie Robertson, Annetta Cox, and Mark Adams (USDA Forest Service) and John Lewis (National Weather Service) provided data and technical assistance. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on an earlier draft.


  • Biogeomorphology
  • Biomechanical effects
  • Bioturbation
  • Blowdown
  • Forest disturbance
  • Tree uprooting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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