Articles | Volume 11, issue 11
Research article
04 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 04 Jun 2014

Response of vegetation to the 2003 European drought was mitigated by height

S. L. Bevan, S. O. Los, and P. R. J. North

Abstract. The effects on climate of land-cover change, predominantly from the conversion of forests to crops or grassland, are reasonably well understood for low and high latitudes but are largely unknown for temperate latitudes. The main reason for this gap in our knowledge is that there are compensating effects on the energy and water balance that are related to changes in land-surface albedo, soil evaporation and plant transpiration. We analyse how vegetation height affected the response of vegetation during the 2003 European drought using precipitation data, temperature data, normalized difference vegetation index data and a new vegetation height data set obtained from the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) on the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat). At the height of the 2003 drought we find for tall vegetation a significantly smaller decrease in vegetation index and a smaller diurnal temperature (DTR) range, indicating less water stress and drought impacts on tall vegetation. Over Germany for example, 98% of significant correlations showed a smaller anomaly in vegetation index anomaly with greater height, and 95% of significant correlations showed a smaller DTR with greater vegetation height. Over France the equivalent percentages were 94 and 88%, respectively. Vegetation height is likely associated with greater rooting depth, canopy heat capacity or both. Our results suggest that land-surface models can be improved by better estimates of vegetation height and associated with this a more realistic response to drought.

Final-revised paper