Sensitivity of a general circulation model to global changes in leaf area index

Thomas N. Chase, Roger A. Pielke, Timothy G.F. Kittel, Ramakrishna Nemani, Steven W. Running

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Methods have recently become available for estimating the amount of leaf area at the surface of the Earth using satellite data. Also available are modeled estimates of what global leaf area patterns would look like should the vegetation be in equilibrium with current local climatic and soil conditions. The differences between the actual vegetation distribution and the potential vegetation distribution may reflect the impact of human activity on the Earth's surface. To examine model sensitivity to changes in leaf area index (LAI), global distributions of maximum LAI were used as surface boundary conditions in the National Center for Atmospheric Research community climate model (NCAR CCM2) coupled with the biosphere atmosphere transfer scheme (BATS). Results from 10-year ensemble averages for the months of January and July indicate that the largest effects of the decreased LAI in the actual LAI simulation occur in the northern hemisphere winter at high latitudes despite the fact that direct LAI forcing is negligible in these regions at this time of year. This is possibly a result of LAI forcing in the tropics which has long-ranging effects in the winter of both hemispheres. An assessment of the Asian monsoon region for the month of July shows decreased latent heat flux from the surface, increased surface temperature, and decreased precipitation with the actual LAI distribution. While the statistical significance of the results has not been unambiguously established in these simulations, we suspect that an effect on modeled general circulation dynamics has occurred due to changes of maximum LAI suggesting that further attention needs to be paid to the accurate designation of vegetation parameters. The incorporation of concomitant changes in albedo, vegetation fractional coverage, and roughness length is suggested for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7393-7408
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberD3
StatePublished - 1996


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