Articles | Volume 9, issue 11
Research article
23 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 23 Nov 2012

Role of vegetation change in future climate under the A1B scenario and a climate stabilisation scenario, using the HadCM3C Earth system model

P. D. Falloon, R. Dankers, R. A. Betts, C. D. Jones, B. B. B. Booth, and F. H. Lambert

Abstract. The aim of our study was to use the coupled climate-carbon cycle model HadCM3C to quantify climate impact of ecosystem changes over recent decades and under future scenarios, due to changes in both atmospheric CO2 and surface albedo. We use two future scenarios – the IPCC SRES A1B scenario, and a climate stabilisation scenario (2C20), allowing us to assess the impact of climate mitigation on results. We performed a pair of simulations under each scenario – one in which vegetation was fixed at the initial state and one in which vegetation changes dynamically in response to climate change, as determined by the interactive vegetation model within HadCM3C.

In our simulations with interactive vegetation, relatively small changes in global vegetation coverage were found, mainly dominated by increases in shrub and needleleaf trees at high latitudes and losses of broadleaf trees and grasses across the Amazon. Globally this led to a loss of terrestrial carbon, mainly from the soil. Global changes in carbon storage were related to the regional losses from the Amazon and gains at high latitude. Regional differences in carbon storage between the two scenarios were largely driven by the balance between warming-enhanced decomposition and altered vegetation growth. Globally, interactive vegetation reduced albedo acting to enhance albedo changes due to climate change. This was mainly related to the darker land surface over high latitudes (due to vegetation expansion, particularly during December–January and March–May); small increases in albedo occurred over the Amazon. As a result, there was a relatively small impact of vegetation change on most global annual mean climate variables, which was generally greater under A1B than 2C20, with markedly stronger local-to-regional and seasonal impacts. Globally, vegetation change amplified future annual temperature increases by 0.24 and 0.15 K (under A1B and 2C20, respectively) and increased global precipitation, with reductions in precipitation over the Amazon and increases over high latitudes. In general, changes were stronger over land – for example, global temperature changes due to interactive vegetation of 0.43 and 0.28 K under A1B and 2C20, respectively. Regionally, the warming influence of future vegetation change in our simulations was driven by the balance between driving factors. For instance, reduced tree cover over the Amazon reduced evaporation (particularly during June–August), outweighing the cooling influence of any small albedo changes. In contrast, at high latitudes the warming impact of reduced albedo (particularly during December–February and March–May) due to increased vegetation cover appears to have offset any cooling due to small evaporation increases.

Climate mitigation generally reduced the impact of vegetation change on future global and regional climate in our simulations. Our study therefore suggests that there is a need to consider both biogeochemical and biophysical effects in climate adaptation and mitigation decision making.

Final-revised paper