The impact of 200 years of land cover change on the Australian near-surface climate

G. T. Narisma, A. J. Pitman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


The effect of land cover change on the Australian regional-scale climate is investigated using the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research (PSU-NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5). Four enseble simulations are performed consisting of January and July experiments for eight different years with a 50-km grid spacing using natural (1788) and current (1988) vegetation cover. The statistical significance of changes that occurred following the replacement of natural vegetation with current vegetation on air temperature, rainfall, latent heat flux, and other related quantities is explored. Results show that the impact of land cover change on local air temperature is statistically significant at a 99% confidence level. Furthermore, there are indications that the observed increase in local maximum air temperatures in certain regions of Australia can be partially attributed to land cover change. The results are evidence of statistically significant changes in rainfall, and the sign of these changes over Western Australia in July, and the lack of any simulated changes in January, agree with observations. These results provide further evidence of large-scale reductions in rainfall following land cover change. Changes in wind speed are also simulated and are consistent with those expected following land cover change. The results indicate that attempts to identify greenhouse-related warming in Australian air temperature records should account for the effects of both land cover change and increasing CO2 concentrations since both types of anthropogenic forcing exist in long-term observational records. Since further land cover change will occur in the future, directly via human impact and indirectly via CO2 fertilization, the results support efforts to include land surface schemes that allow the vegetation to interact with changes in climate in climate models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)424-436
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003


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