Climate Dynamics

, Volume 25, Issue 6, pp 581-609

First online:

A comparison of a GCM response to historical anthropogenic land cover change and model sensitivity to uncertainty in present-day land cover representations

  • Johannes FeddemaAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Kansas Email author 
  • , Keith OlesonAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Gordon BonanAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Linda MearnsAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Warren WashingtonAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Gerald MeehlAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research
  • , Douglas NychkaAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research

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This study assesses the sensitivity of the fully coupled NCAR-DOE PCM to three different representations of present-day land cover, based on IPCC SRES land cover information. We conclude that there is significant model sensitivity to current land cover characterization, with an observed average global temperature range of 0.21 K between the simulations. Much larger contrasts (up to 5 K) are found on the regional scale; however, these changes are largely offsetting on the global scale. These results show that significant biases can be introduced when outside data sources are used to conduct anthropogenic land cover change experiments in GCMs that have been calibrated to their own representation of present-day land cover. We conclude that hybrid systems that combine the natural vegetation from the native GCM datasets combined with human land cover information from other sources are best for simulating such impacts. We also performed a prehuman simulation, which had a 0.39 K ~higher average global temperature and, perhaps of greater importance, temperature changes regionally of about 2 K. In this study, the larger regional changes coincide with large-scale agricultural areas. The initial cooling from energy balance changes appear to create feedbacks that intensify mid-latitude circulation features and weaken the summer monsoon circulation over Asia, leading to further cooling. From these results, we conclude that land cover change plays a significant role in anthropogenically forced climate change. Because these changes coincide with regions of the highest human population this climate impact could have a disproportionate impact on human systems. Therefore, it is important that land cover change be included in past and future climate change simulations.