The role of spatial scale and background climate in the latitudinal temperature response to deforestation

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Mar 07, 2016
Li, Y., De Noblet-Ducoudré, N., Davin, E. L., Motesharrei, S., Zeng, N., Li, S., & Kalnay, E.



Previous modeling and empirical studies have shown that the biophysical impact of deforestation is to warm the tropics and cool the extratropics. In this study, we use an earth system model of intermediate complexity to investigate how deforestation on various spatial scales affects ground temperature, with an emphasis on the latitudinal temperature response and its underlying mechanisms. Results show that the latitudinal pattern of temperature response depends nonlinearly on the spatial extent of deforestation and the fraction of vegetation change. Compared with regional deforestation, temperature change in global deforestation is greatly amplified in temperate and boreal regions but is dampened in tropical regions. Incremental forest removal leads to increasingly larger cooling in temperate and boreal regions, while the temperature increase saturates in tropical regions. The latitudinal and spatial patterns of the temperature response are driven by two processes with competing temperature effects: decrease in absorbed shortwave radiation due to increased albedo and decrease in evapotranspiration. These changes in the surface energy balance reflect the importance of the background climate in modifying the deforestation impact. Shortwave radiation and precipitation have an intrinsic geographical distribution that constrains the effects of biophysical changes and therefore leads to temperature changes that are spatially varying. For example, wet (dry) climate favors larger (smaller) evapotranspiration change; thus, warming (cooling) is more likely to occur. Our analysis reveals that the latitudinal temperature change largely results from the climate conditions in which deforestation occurs and is less influenced by the magnitude of individual biophysical changes such as albedo, roughness, and evapotranspiration efficiency.

Read the full article in Earth System Dynamics.

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