What to plant and where to plant it; Modeling the biophysical effects of North America temperate forests on climate using the Community Earth System Model

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Virginia Tech

Forests affect climate by absorbing CO₂ but also by altering albedo, latent heat flux, and sensible heat flux. In this study we used the Community Earth System Model to assess the biophysical effect of North American temperate forests on climate and how this effect changes with location, tree type, and forest management. We calculated the change in annual temperature and energy balance associated with afforestation with either needle leaf evergreen trees (NET) or broadleaf deciduous trees (BDT) and between forests with high and low leaf-area indices (LAI). Afforestation from crops to forests resulted in lower albedo and higher sensible heat flux but no consistent difference in latent heat flux. Forests were consistently warmer than crops at high latitudes and colder at lower latitudes. In North America, the temperature response from afforestation shifted from warming to cooling between 34° N and 40° N for ground temperature and between 21° N and 25° N for near surface air temperature. NET tended to have lower albedo, higher sensible heat flux and warmer temperatures than BDT. The effect of tree PFT was larger than the effect of afforestation in the south and in the mid-Atlantic. Increasing LAI, a proxy for increased management intensity, caused a cooling effect in both tree types, but NET responded more strongly and albedo decreased while albedo increased for BDT. Our results show that forests' location, tree type, and management intensity can have nearly equal biophysical effects on temperature. A forest will have maximum biophysical cooling effect if it is in the south, composed of broadleaf PFT, and is managed to maximize leaf area index.

temperate forests, climate, biophysical, albedo, latent heat flux, sensible heat flux, forest management, leaf area index (lai), community earth system model (cesm), needleleaf evergreen, broadleaf deciduous, ground temperature, air temperature