Influence of vegetation on the local climate and hydrology in the tropics: sensitivity to soil parameters
Osborne, T. M., Lawrence, D. M., Slingo, J. M., Challinor, A. J. and Wheeler, T. R. (2004) Influence of vegetation on the local climate and hydrology in the tropics: sensitivity to soil parameters. Climate Dynamics, 23 (1). pp. 45-61. ISSN 0930-7575
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1007/s00382-004-0421-1
Land use change with accompanying major modifications to the vegetation cover is widespread in the tropics, due to increasing demands for agricultural land, and may have significant impacts on the climate. This study investigates (1) the influence of vegetation on the local climate in the tropics; (2) how that influence varies from region to region; and (3) how the sensitivity of the local climate to vegetation, and hence land use change, depends on the hydraulic characteristics of the soil. A series of idealised experiments with the Hadley Centre atmospheric model, HadAM3, are described in which the influence of vegetation in the tropics is assessed by comparing the results of integrations with and without tropical vegetation. The sensitivity of the results to the soil characteristics is then explored by repeating the experiments with a differing, but equally valid, description of soil hydraulic parameters. The results have shown that vegetation has a significant moderating effect on the climate throughout the tropics by cooling the surface through enhanced latent heat fluxes. The influence of vegetation is, however, seasonally dependent, with much greater impacts during the dry season when the availability of surface moisture is limited. Furthermore, there are significant regional variations both in terms of the magnitude of the cooling and in the response of the precipitation. Not all regions show a feedback of vegetation on the local precipitation; this result has been related both to vegetation type and to the prevailing meteorological conditions. An important finding has been the sensitivity of the results to the specification of the soil hydraulic parameters. The introduction of more freely draining soils has changed the soil-moisture contents of the control, vegetated system and has reduced, significantly, the climate sensitivity to vegetation and by implication, land use change. Changes to the soil parameters have also had an impact on the soil hydrology and its interaction with vegetation, by altering the partitioning between fast and slow runoff processes. These results raise important questions about the representation of highly heterogeneous soil characteristics in climate models, as well as the potential influence of land use change on the soil characteristics themselves.