Effects of Nontropical Forest Cover on Climate

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  • 1 NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771
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Abstract

The albedo of a forest with snow on the ground is much less than that of snow-covered low vegetation such as tundra. As a result, simulation of the Northern Hemisphere climate, when fully forested south of a suitably chosen taiga/tundra boundary (ecocline), produces a hemispheric surface air temperature 1.9 K higher than that of an earth devoid of trees. Using variations of the solar constant to force climate changes in the GLAS Multi-Layer Energy Balance Model, the role of snow-albedo feedback in increasing the climate sensitivity to external perturbations is reexamined. The effect of snow-albedo feedback is found to be significantly reduced when a low albedo is used for snow over taiga, south of the fixed latitude of the ecocline. If the ecocline shifts to maintain equilibrium with the new climate—which is presumed to occur in a prolonged perturbation when time is sufficient for trees to grow or die and fall—the feedback is stronger than for a fixed ecocline, especially at high latitudes. However, this snow/vegetation-albedo feedback is still essentially weaker than the snow-albedo feedback in the forest-free case.

The loss of forest to agriculture and other land-use would put the present climate further away from that associated with the fully forested earth south of the ecocline and closer to the forest-free case. Thus, the decrease in nontropical forest cover since prehistoric times has probably affected the climate by reducing the temperatures and by increasing the sensitivity to perturbations, with both effects more pronounced at high latitudes.

Abstract

The albedo of a forest with snow on the ground is much less than that of snow-covered low vegetation such as tundra. As a result, simulation of the Northern Hemisphere climate, when fully forested south of a suitably chosen taiga/tundra boundary (ecocline), produces a hemispheric surface air temperature 1.9 K higher than that of an earth devoid of trees. Using variations of the solar constant to force climate changes in the GLAS Multi-Layer Energy Balance Model, the role of snow-albedo feedback in increasing the climate sensitivity to external perturbations is reexamined. The effect of snow-albedo feedback is found to be significantly reduced when a low albedo is used for snow over taiga, south of the fixed latitude of the ecocline. If the ecocline shifts to maintain equilibrium with the new climate—which is presumed to occur in a prolonged perturbation when time is sufficient for trees to grow or die and fall—the feedback is stronger than for a fixed ecocline, especially at high latitudes. However, this snow/vegetation-albedo feedback is still essentially weaker than the snow-albedo feedback in the forest-free case.

The loss of forest to agriculture and other land-use would put the present climate further away from that associated with the fully forested earth south of the ecocline and closer to the forest-free case. Thus, the decrease in nontropical forest cover since prehistoric times has probably affected the climate by reducing the temperatures and by increasing the sensitivity to perturbations, with both effects more pronounced at high latitudes.

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