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Does Grazing Affect Regional Climate?

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  • 1 Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • | 2 Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

Before European settlement, the Great Plains of the United States contained vast herds of bison. These bison altered the landscape through their grazing. Measurement data of the disturbance that such grazing could produce, when scaled for the large population of bison, were used with a coupled atmospheric–ecosystem model to evaluate the likely effect that this grazing had on the growing season weather in the Great Plains. A dynamically coupled meteorological and plant growth model was used to investigate the regional atmospheric conditions over a single growing season. A 50-km horizontal mesh was implemented, covering the central plains of the United States. The modeling system was then integrated, with a time step of 90 s, for a period covering 1 April 1989 through 31 August 1989 using boundary conditions obtained from an objective analysis of gridded archive data. This integration was performed with and without grazing to assess the effects on regional atmospheric and biological processes. The grazing algorithm was employed to represent presettlement North American bison and was switched on and off for different simulations. The results indicated a cooling response in daily maximum temperatures to removal of grazing. The opposite trends were found for the minimum daily temperature. It was also found that grazing produced significant perturbations in the hydrological cycle.

Current affiliation: Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Joseph L. Eastman, Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Foothills Campus, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: dallas@cobra.atmos.colostate.edu

Abstract

Before European settlement, the Great Plains of the United States contained vast herds of bison. These bison altered the landscape through their grazing. Measurement data of the disturbance that such grazing could produce, when scaled for the large population of bison, were used with a coupled atmospheric–ecosystem model to evaluate the likely effect that this grazing had on the growing season weather in the Great Plains. A dynamically coupled meteorological and plant growth model was used to investigate the regional atmospheric conditions over a single growing season. A 50-km horizontal mesh was implemented, covering the central plains of the United States. The modeling system was then integrated, with a time step of 90 s, for a period covering 1 April 1989 through 31 August 1989 using boundary conditions obtained from an objective analysis of gridded archive data. This integration was performed with and without grazing to assess the effects on regional atmospheric and biological processes. The grazing algorithm was employed to represent presettlement North American bison and was switched on and off for different simulations. The results indicated a cooling response in daily maximum temperatures to removal of grazing. The opposite trends were found for the minimum daily temperature. It was also found that grazing produced significant perturbations in the hydrological cycle.

Current affiliation: Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Corresponding author address: Joseph L. Eastman, Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Foothills Campus, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: dallas@cobra.atmos.colostate.edu

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