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Marysa M. Laguë and Abigail L. S. Swann

Abstract

Vegetation influences the atmosphere in complex and nonlinear ways, such that large-scale changes in vegetation cover can drive changes in climate on both local and global scales. Large-scale land surface changes have been shown to introduce excess energy to one hemisphere, causing a shift in atmospheric circulation on a global scale. However, past work has not quantified how the climate response scales with the area of vegetation. Here, the response of climate to linearly increasing the area of forest cover in the northern midlatitudes is systematically evaluated. This study shows that the magnitude of afforestation of the northern midlatitudes determines the local climate response in a nonlinear fashion, and the authors identify a threshold in vegetation-induced cloud feedbacks—a concept not previously addressed by large-scale vegetation manipulation experiments. Small increases in tree cover drive compensating cloud feedbacks, while latent heat fluxes reach a threshold after sufficiently large increases in tree cover, causing the troposphere to warm and dry, subsequently reducing cloud cover. Increased absorption of solar radiation at the surface is driven by both surface albedo changes and cloud feedbacks. This study shows how atmospheric cross-equatorial energy transport changes as the area of afforestation is incrementally increased. The results highlight the importance of considering both local and remote climate effects of large-scale vegetation change and explore the scaling relationship between changes in vegetation cover and resulting climate impacts.

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Marysa M. Laguë, Gordon B. Bonan, and Abigail L. S. Swann

Abstract

Changes in the land surface can drive large responses in the atmosphere on local, regional, and global scales. Surface properties control the partitioning of energy within the surface energy budget to fluxes of shortwave and longwave radiation, sensible and latent heat, and ground heat storage. Changes in surface energy fluxes can impact the atmosphere across scales through changes in temperature, cloud cover, and large-scale atmospheric circulation. We test the sensitivity of the atmosphere to global changes in three land surface properties: albedo, evaporative resistance, and surface roughness. We show the impact of changing these surface properties differs drastically between simulations run with an offline land model, compared to coupled land–atmosphere simulations that allow for atmospheric feedbacks associated with land–atmosphere coupling. Atmospheric feedbacks play a critical role in defining the temperature response to changes in albedo and evaporative resistance, particularly in the extratropics. More than 50% of the surface temperature response to changing albedo comes from atmospheric feedbacks in over 80% of land areas. In some regions, cloud feedbacks in response to increased evaporative resistance result in nearly 1 K of additional surface warming. In contrast, the magnitude of surface temperature responses to changes in vegetation height are comparable between offline and coupled simulations. We improve our fundamental understanding of how and why changes in vegetation cover drive responses in the atmosphere, and develop understanding of the role of individual land surface properties in controlling climate across spatial scales—critical to understanding the effects of land-use change on Earth’s climate.

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Claire M. Zarakas, Abigail L. S. Swann, Marysa M. Laguë, Kyle C. Armour, and James T. Randerson

Abstract

Increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere influence climate both through CO2’s role as a greenhouse gas and through its impact on plants. Plants respond to atmospheric CO2 concentrations in several ways that can alter surface energy and water fluxes and thus surface climate, including changes in stomatal conductance, water use, and canopy leaf area. These plant physiological responses are already embedded in most Earth system models, and a robust literature demonstrates that they can affect global-scale temperature. However, the physiological contribution to transient warming has yet to be assessed systematically in Earth system models. Here this gap is addressed using carbon cycle simulations from phases 5 and 6 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) to isolate the radiative and physiological contributions to the transient climate response (TCR), which is defined as the change in globally averaged near-surface air temperature during the 20-yr window centered on the time of CO2 doubling relative to preindustrial CO2 concentrations. In CMIP6 models, the physiological effect contributes 0.12°C (σ: 0.09°C; range: 0.02°–0.29°C) of warming to the TCR, corresponding to 6.1% of the full TCR (σ: 3.8%; range: 1.4%–13.9%). Moreover, variation in the physiological contribution to the TCR across models contributes disproportionately more to the intermodel spread of TCR estimates than it does to the mean. The largest contribution of plant physiology to CO2-forced warming—and the intermodel spread in warming—occurs over land, especially in forested regions.

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Marysa M. Laguë, Marianne Pietschnig, Sarah Ragen, Timothy A. Smith, and David S. Battisti

Abstract

Motivated by the hemispheric asymmetry of land distribution on Earth, we explore the climate of Northland, a highly idealized planet with a Northern Hemisphere continent and a Southern Hemisphere ocean. The climate of Northland can be separated into four distinct regions: the Southern Hemisphere ocean, the seasonally wet tropics, the mid-latitude desert, and the Great Northern Swamp. We evaluate how modifying land surface properties on Northland drives changes in temperatures, precipitation patterns, the global energy budget, and atmospheric dynamics. We observe a surprising response to changes in land-surface evaporation, where suppressing terrestrial evaporation in Northland cools both land and ocean. In previous studies, suppressing terrestrial evaporation has been found to lead to local warming by reducing latent cooling of the land surface. However, reduced evaporation can also decrease atmospheric water vapor, reducing the strength of the greenhouse effect and leading to large-scale cooling. We use a set of idealized climate model simulations to show that suppressing terrestrial evaporation over Northern Hemisphere continents of varying size can lead to either warming or cooling of the land surface, depending on which of these competing effects dominate. We find that a combination of total land area and contiguous continent size controls the balance between local warming from reduced latent heat flux and large-scale cooling from reduced atmospheric water vapor. Finally, we demonstrate how terrestrial heat capacity, albedo, and evaporation all modulate the location of the ITCZ both over the continent and over the ocean.

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Marysa M. Laguë, Marianne Pietschnig, Sarah Ragen, Timothy A. Smith, and David S. Battisti

Abstract

Motivated by the hemispheric asymmetry of land distribution on Earth, we explore the climate of Northland, a highly idealized planet with a Northern Hemisphere continent and a Southern Hemisphere ocean. The climate of Northland can be separated into four distinct regions: the Southern Hemisphere ocean, the seasonally wet tropics, the midlatitude desert, and the Great Northern Swamp. We evaluate how modifying land surface properties on Northland drives changes in temperatures, precipitation patterns, the global energy budget, and atmospheric dynamics. We observe a surprising response to changes in land surface evaporation, where suppressing terrestrial evaporation in Northland cools both land and ocean. In previous studies, suppressing terrestrial evaporation has been found to lead to local warming by reducing latent cooling of the land surface. However, reduced evaporation can also decrease atmospheric water vapor, reducing the strength of the greenhouse effect and leading to large-scale cooling. We use a set of idealized climate model simulations to show that suppressing terrestrial evaporation over Northern Hemisphere continents of varying size can lead to either warming or cooling of the land surface, depending on which of these competing effects dominates. We find that a combination of total land area and contiguous continent size controls the balance between local warming from reduced latent heat flux and large-scale cooling from reduced atmospheric water vapor. Finally, we demonstrate how terrestrial heat capacity, albedo, and evaporation all modulate the location of the ITCZ both over the continent and over the ocean.

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