Regional and global impacts of land cover change and sea surface temperature anomalies

Kirsten L. Findell*, Andrew J. Pitman, Matthew H. England, Philip J. Pegion

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


The atmospheric and land components of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's (GFDL's) Climate Model version 2.1 (CM2.1) is used with climatological sea surface temperatures (SSTs) to investigate the relative climatic impacts of historical anthropogenic land cover change (LCC) and realistic SST anomalies. The SST forcing anomalies used are analogous to signals induced by El Niño-Southern Oscillation ENSO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and the background global warming trend. Coherent areas of LCC are represented throughout much of central and eastern Europe, northern India, southeastern China, and on either side of the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains in North America. Smaller areas of change are present in various tropical regions. The land cover changes in the model are almost exclusively a conversion of forests to grasslands. Model results show that, at the global scale, the physical impacts of LCC on temperature and rainfall are less important than large-scale SST anomalies, particularly those due to ENSO. However, in the regions where the land surface has been altered, the impact of LCC can be equally or more important than the SST forcing patterns in determining the seasonal cycle of the surface water and energy balance. Thus, this work provides a context for the impacts of LCC on climate: namely, strong regional-scale impacts that can significantly change globally averaged fields but that rarely propagate beyond the disturbed regions. This suggests that proper representation of land cover conditions is essential in the design of climate model experiments, particularly if results are to be used for regional-scale assessments of climate change impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3248-3269
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2009


Dive into the research topics of 'Regional and global impacts of land cover change and sea surface temperature anomalies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this