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W. L. Ellenburg, R. T. McNider, J. F. Cruise, and John R. Christy

Abstract

This paper explores the link between the anomalous warming hole in the southeastern United States and a major land-use/land-cover (LULC) change in the region. Land surface and satellite observations were analyzed to estimate the net radiative forcing due to LULC change. Albedo and latent energy were specifically addressed for the dominant LULC change of agriculture to forests. It was assumed that in the energy-limited environment of the region, the partition of changes in available energy due to albedo will mostly impact the sensible heat. The results show that in the southeastern United States, for the period of 1920 to 1992, the changes in sensible (as a result of albedo) and latent energies are in direct competition with each other. In the spring and early summer months, the croplands are in peak production and the latent energy associated with their evapotranspiration (ET) is comparable to that of the forests so the decrease in radiation due to albedo dominates the signal. However, during the late summer and fall months, most major crops have matured, thus reducing their transpiration rate while forests (particularly evergreens) maintain their foliage and with their deep roots are able to continue to transpire as long as atmospheric conditions are favorable. This later influence of latent energy appears to more than offset the increased radiative forcing from the spring and early summer. Overall, a mean annual net radiative forcing resulting from a LULC change from cropland to forests was estimated to be −1.06 W m−2 and thus a probable contribution to the “warming hole” over the Southeast during the majority of the twentieth century.

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