Effects of boreal forest vegetation on global climate

Gordon B. Bonan, David Pollard, Starley L. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

668 Scopus citations

Abstract

Terrestrial ecosystems are thought to play an important role in determining regional and global climate1-6; one example of this is in Amazonia, where destruction of the tropical rainforest leads to warmer and drier conditions4-6. Boreal forest ecosystems may also affect climate. As temperatures rise, the amount of continental and oceanic snow and ice is reduced, so the land and ocean surfaces absorb greater amounts of solar radiation, reinforcing the warming in a 'snow/ice/albedo' feedback which results in large climate sensitivity to radiative forcings7-9. This sensitivity is moderated, however, by the presence of trees in northern latitudes, which mask the high reflectance of snow10,11, leading to warmer winter temperatures than if trees were not present12-14. Here we present results from a global climate model which show that the boreal forest warms both winter and summer air temperatures, relative to simulations in which the forest is replaced with bare ground or tundra vegetation. Our results suggest that future redistributions of boreal forest and tundra vegetation (due, for example, to extensive logging, or the influence of global warming) could initiate important climate feedbacks, which could also extend to lower latitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-718
Number of pages3
JournalNature
Volume359
Issue number6397
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992

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