Articles | Volume 11, issue 21
Research article
13 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 13 Nov 2014

Disentangling the response of forest and grassland energy exchange to heatwaves under idealized land–atmosphere coupling

C. C. van Heerwaarden and A. J. Teuling

Abstract. This study investigates the difference in land–atmosphere interactions between grassland and forest during typical heatwave conditions in order to understand the controversial results of Teuling et al. (2010) (hereafter T10), who found the systematic occurrence of higher sensible heat fluxes over forest than over grassland during heatwaves. With a simple but accurate coupled land–atmosphere model, we show that existing parametrizations are able to reproduce the findings of T10 for normal summer and heatwave conditions. Furthermore, we demonstrate the sensitivity of the coupled system to changes in incoming radiation and early-morning temperature typical for European heatwaves.

Our results suggest that the fast atmospheric control of stomatal resistance can explain the observed differences between grassland and forest. The atmospheric boundary layer has a buffering function therein: increases in stomatal resistance are largely compensated for by increases in the potential evaporation due to atmospheric warming and drying.

In order to disentangle the contributions of differences in several static and dynamic properties between forest and grassland, we have performed a virtual experiment with artificial land-use types that are equal to grassland, but with one of its properties replaced by that of forest. From these, we confirm the important role of the fast physiological processes that lead to the closure of stomata. Nonetheless, for a full explanation of T10's results, the other properties (albedo, roughness and the ratio of minimum stomatal resistance to leaf-area index) play an important but indirect role; their influences mainly consist of strengthening the feedback that leads to the closure of the stomata by providing more energy that can be converted into sensible heat. The model experiment also confirms that, in line with the larger sensible heat flux, higher atmospheric temperatures occur over forest.

As our parametrization for stomatal resistance is empirical rather than mechanical, our study stresses the demand for a better mechanistic understanding of physiological processes in plants.

Short summary
This study disentangles the response of forest and grassland to heatwaves, to interpret the findings of Teuling et al. (2010), who found systematically higher temperatures over forests than over grasslands in European heatwaves. By means of a study with a simple coupled land–atmosphere model, we show that the increase in stomatal resistance of vegetation under high values of vapor pressure deficit explains most of the differences and that this increase is enhanced by boundary layer feedbacks.
Final-revised paper