Forest ecosystems in the southern United States are dramatically altered by three major disturbances: timber harvesting, hurricane, and permanent land conversion. Understanding and quantifying effects of disturbance on forest carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles is critical for sustainable forest management in this region. In this study, we introduced a process-based ecosystem model for simulating forest disturbance impacts on ecosystem carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles. Based on forest mortality data classified from Landsat TM/ETM + images, this model was then applied to estimate changes in carbon storage using Mississippi and Alabama as a case study. Mean annual forest mortality rate for these states was 2.37%. Due to frequent disturbance, over 50% of the forest land in the study region was less than 30 years old. Forest disturbance events caused a large carbon source (138.92 Tg C, 6.04 Tg C yr-1; 1 Tg = 1012 g) for both states during 1984–2007, accounting for 2.89% (4.81% if disregard carbon storage changes in wood products) of the total forest carbon storage in this region. Large decreases and slow recovery of forest biomass were the main causes for carbon release. Forest disturbance could result in a carbon sink in few areas if wood product carbon was considered as a local carbon pool, indicating the importance of accounting for wood product carbon when assessing forest disturbance effects. The legacy effects of forest disturbance on ecosystem carbon storage could last over 50 years. This study implies that understanding forest disturbance impacts on carbon dynamics is of critical importance for assessing regional carbon budgets.