Modelling tropical deforestation: A study of GCM land‐surface parametrizations

Robert E. Dickinson*, Ann Henderson‐Sellers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

432 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical deforestation, by changing land surfaces, may have important consequences for the climate system. Predicting even the local, immediate effects of replacing tropical broadleaf forest with impoverished grassland has been difficult, because the land‐surface parametrization schemes used previously in climate models have been inadequate. The forest canopy is particularly important for the surface‐energy budget in tropical regions, and models neglecting the occurrence of such a canopy may give an unrealistic partitioning between various surface‐energy fluxes. Inclusion of a land‐surface scheme with a vegetation canopy into a version of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Climate Model (CCM) with a diurnal as well as a seasonal cycle permits an exploratory study of the possible effects of tropical deforestation. In a 13‐month integration that assumes that all of the Amazon tropical forest in South America is replaced by impoverished grassland, surface hydrological and temperature effects dominate the response. Reduced mixing and less interception and evaporation from the canopy cause runoff to increase and surface temperatures to rise by 3–5 K. The period of driest soil is increased in the model from one month to several, but the possibility that this change is random cannot be excluded. Increased temperatures and drier soil could have a detrimental impact on survival of the remaining forest and on attempts at cultivation in deforested areas. The land‐surface model, driven in a stand‐alone mode by prescribed atmospheric conditions and with an imposed seasonal cycle of rainfall, mimics the seasonal cycle of soil moisture and runoff found in the CCM. Hence, it is used to estimate the relative contribution of the various changes imposed to simulate deforestation in the CCM with respect to the model's response at the surface. The change in surface roughness interacting with the canopy hydrology is evidently a major factor in determining the surface response to deforestation. However, the response to change in roughness is less pronounced for simpler models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-462
Number of pages24
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number480
Publication statusPublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes


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