Boreal forest and tundra ecosystems as components of the climate system
- Cite this article as:
- Bonan, G.B., Chapin, F.S. & Thompson, S.L. Climatic Change (1995) 29: 145. doi:10.1007/BF01094014
The effects of terrestrial ecosystems on the climate system have received most attention in the tropics, where extensive deforestation and burning has altered atmospheric chemistry and land surface climatology. In this paper we examine the biophysical and biogeochemical effects of boreal forest and tundra ecosystems on atmospheric processes. Boreal forests and tundra have an important role in the global budgets of atmospheric CO2 and CH4. However, these biogeochemical interactions are climatically important only at long temporal scales, when terrestrial vegetation undergoes large geographic redistribution in response to climate change. In contrast, by masking the high albedo of snow and through the partitioning of net radiation into sensible and latent heat, boreal forests have a significant impact on the seasonal and annual climatology of much of the Northern Hemisphere. Experiments with the LSX land surface model and the GENESIS climate model show that the boreal forest decreases land surface albedo in the winter, warms surface air temperatures at all times of the year, and increases latent heat flux and atmospheric moisture at all times of the year compared to simulations in which the boreal forest is replaced with bare ground or tundra. These effects are greatest in arctic and sub-arctic regions, but extend to the tropics. This paper shows that land-atmosphere interactions are especially important in arctic and sub-arctic regions, resulting in a coupled system in which the geographic distribution of vegetation affects climate and vice versa. This coupling is most important over long time periods, when changes in the abundance and distribution of boreal forest and tundra ecosystems in response to climatic change influence climate through their carbon storage, albedo, and hydrologic feedbacks.