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Northern Research Station
11 Campus Blvd., Suite 200
Newtown Square, PA 19073
(610) 557-4017
(610) 557-4132 TTY/TDD

You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Forest Disturbance Processes /Climate Change and Events / Impacts of Land Management on the Climate System
Forest Disturbance Processes

Impacts of Land Management on the Climate System

[image:] Example output (longwave radiation flux at the surface) from the National Center for Atmospheric Research Community Climate System Model (Version 3), which is being used by NRS-06 scientists and collaborators to examine the impacts of land-cover changes (including afforestation) on the global climate system. Research Issue

Nearly 27% of the earth’s land surface is covered by forest vegetation.  Forests play a critical role in the earth’s climate system.  Forest vegetation and soil affect the global carbon cycle by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthetic processes.  Forest vegetation is also known to have higher evapotranspiration rates than other land cover types.  Afforestation has been viewed as providing a mitigating effect to global warming because of the carbon uptake and enhanced cooling due to increased evapotranspiration.  However, the cooling effects of removing greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and increasing evapotranspiration rates with expanding forest coverage are often compensated by the warming effect of decreased surface albedo values associated with more forest coverage.  New research is needed to examine the potential impacts of land cover changes, including afforestation, on the climate system in order to provide the scientific basis for adopting land use decisions that are meant to mitigate global warming. 

Our Research

Using the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Climate System Model Version 3 (CCSM3) and the high performance computing environment established in the Eastern Area Modeling Consortium, we are developing global and regional climate scenarios that characterize the potential impacts of future land cover changes on the global climate system.  Improved parameterizations of forest canopy optical properties (and associated albedo values) along with plausible scenarios of future land-use patterns developed by RWU NRS-06 scientists are being implemented in the CCSM3 to examine the sensitivity of surface temperatures, atmospheric moisture, and other climate variables to potential changes in forest coverage associated with afforestation efforts.

Expected Outcomes

The research results from this study will improve our current understanding of how forests and changing regional forest coverage can impact the earth’s climate.  The results will inform land managers and policy-makers on the potential impacts on the earth’s climate of using afforestation as a mitigation strategy to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Warren E. Heilman, Research Meteorologist, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • David Hollinger, Plant Physiologist, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Ken Clark, Research Forester, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Xindi Bian, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Richard Birdsey, Project Leader, US Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Yude Pan, Research Forester, US Forest Service Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Sharon Zhong, Atmospheric Scientist, Michigan State University
  • Xiuping Li, Visiting Scientist, Michigan State University

Last Modified: 07/24/2009