Letter | Published:

Historical deforestation locally increased the intensity of hot days in northern mid-latitudes

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages386390 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

The effects of past land-cover changes on climate are disputed1,2,3. Previous modelling studies have generally concluded that the biogeophysical effects of historical deforestation led to an annual mean cooling in the northern mid-latitudes3,4, in line with the albedo-induced negative radiative forcing from land-cover changes since pre-industrial time reported in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report5. However, further observational and modelling studies have highlighted strong seasonal and diurnal contrasts in the temperature response to deforestation6,7,8,9,10. Here, we show that historical deforestation has led to a substantial local warming of hot days over the northern mid-latitudes—a finding that contrasts with most previous model results11,12. Based on observation-constrained state-of-the-art climate-model experiments, we estimate that moderate reductions in tree cover in these regions have contributed at least one-third of the local present-day warming of the hottest day of the year since pre-industrial time, and were responsible for most of this warming before 1980. These results emphasize that land-cover changes need to be considered when studying past and future changes in heat extremes, and highlight a potentially overlooked co-benefit of forest-based carbon mitigation through local biogeophysical mechanisms.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Mahmood, R. et al. Land cover changes and their biogeophysical effects on climate. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 929–953 (2014).

  2. 2.

    Pitman, A. J. et al. Uncertainties in climate responses to past land cover change: first results from the LUCID intercomparison study. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L14814 (2009).

  3. 3.

    De Noblet-Ducoudré, N. et al. Determining robust impacts of land-use-induced land cover changes on surface climate over North America and Eurasia: results from the first set of LUCID experiments. J. Clim. 25, 3261–3281 (2012).

  4. 4.

    Brovkin, V. et al. Biogeophysical effects of historical land cover changes simulated by six earth system models of intermediate complexity. Clim. Dynam. 26, 587–600 (2006).

  5. 5.

    IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  6. 6.

    Kumar, S. et al. Land use/cover change impacts in CMIP5 climate simulations: a new methodology and 21st century challenges. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 6337–6353 (2013).

  7. 7.

    Lejeune, Q., Seneviratne, S. I. & Davin, E. L. Historical land-cover change impacts on climate: comparative assessment of LUCID and CMIP5 multimodel experiments. J. Clim. 30, 1439–1459 (2017).

  8. 8.

    Lee, X. et al. Observed increase in local cooling effect of deforestation at higher latitudes. Nature 479, 384–387 (2011).

  9. 9.

    Li, Y. et al. Local cooling and warming effects of forests based on satellite observations. Nat. Commun. 6, 6603 (2015).

  10. 10.

    Alkama, R. & Cescatti, A. Biophysical climate impacts of recent changes in global forest cover. Science 351, 600–604 (2016).

  11. 11.

    Pitman, A. J. et al. Effects of land cover change on temperature and rainfall extremes in multi-model ensemble simulations. Earth Syst. Dynam. 3, 213–231 (2012).

  12. 12.

    Christidis, N., Stott, P. A., Hegerl, G. C. & Betts, R. A. The role of land use change in the recent warming of daily extreme temperatures. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 589–594 (2013).

  13. 13.

    Klein Goldewijk, K., Beusen, A., van Drecht, G. & de Vos, M. The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human-induced land use change over the past 12,000 years. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20, 73–86 (2011).

  14. 14.

    Davin, E. L., de Noblet-Ducoudré, N. & Friedlingstein, P. Impact of land cover change on surface climate: relevance of the radiative forcing concept. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L13702 (2007).

  15. 15.

    Avila, F. B., Pitman, A. J., Donat, M. G., Alexander, L. V. & Abramowitz, G. Climate model simulated changes in temperature extremes due to land cover change. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 117, D04108 (2012).

  16. 16.

    Zaitchik, B. F., Macalady, A. K., Bonneau, L. R. & Smith, R. B. Europe’s 2003 heat wave: a satellite view of impacts and land-atmosphere feedbacks. Int. J. Climatol. 26, 743–769 (2006).

  17. 17.

    Taylor, K. E., Stouffer, R. J. & Meehl, G. A. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012).

  18. 18.

    Sillmann, J., Kharin, V., Zhang, X., Zwiers, F. & Bronaugh, D. Climate extremes indices in the CMIP5 multimodel ensemble: part 1. Model evaluation in the present climate. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 1716–1733 (2013).

  19. 19.

    Houghton, R. A. The annual net flux of carbon to the atmosphere from changes in land use 1850–1990. Tellus B 51, 298–313 (1999).

  20. 20.

    Le Quéré, C. et al. Global carbon budget 2016. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 8, 605–649 (2016).

  21. 21.

    Stott, P. A. et al. Detection and attribution of climate change: a regional perspective. WIREs Clim. Change 1, 192–211 (2010).

  22. 22.

    Donat, M. et al. Updated analyses of temperature and precipitation extreme indices since the beginning of the twentieth century: the HadEX2 dataset. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 118, 2098–2118 (2013).

  23. 23.

    Cook, B. I., Miller, R. L. & Seager, R. Amplification of the North American “Dust Bowl” drought through human-induced land degradation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 4997–5001 (2009).

  24. 24.

    Mueller, N. D. et al. Cooling of US Midwest summer temperature extremes from cropland intensification. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 317–322 (2016).

  25. 25.

    Thiery, W. et al. Present-day irrigation mitigates heat extremes. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 1403–1422 (2017).

  26. 26.

    Bright, R. M. et al. Local temperature response to land cover and management change driven by non-radiative processes. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 296–302 (2017).

  27. 27.

    Betts, R. A. Offset of the potential carbon sink from boreal forestation by decreases in surface albedo. Nature 408, 187–190 (2000).

  28. 28.

    Arora, V. K. & Montenegro, A. Small temperature benefits provided by realistic afforestation efforts. Nat. Geosci. 4, 514–518 (2011).

  29. 29.

    Schwaab, J. et al. Carbon storage versus albedo change: radiative forcing of forest expansion in temperate mountainous regions of Switzerland. Biogeosciences 12, 467–487 (2015).

  30. 30.

    Efron, B. The Jackknife, the Bootstrap and Other Resampling Plans (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, 1982).

  31. 31.

    Houghton, R. A. Revised estimates of the annual net flux of carbon to the atmosphere from changes in land use and land management 1850–2000. Tellus B 55, 378–390 (2003).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We acknowledge partial support from the European Union through the projects FP7 EMBRACE (grant agreement 282672), H2020 CRESCENDO (grant agreement 641816), FP7 EUCLEIA (grant agreement 607085) and ERC DROUGHT-HEAT (contract 617518), as well as from the German Research Foundation's Emmy Noether Program. We also acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank members of the climate modelling groups who took part in this project for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led the development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We also thank C. Jones, V. Avora, I. Bethke and D. Lawrence for providing additional data from CMIP5 simulations, and we are very grateful to U. Beyerle for management of the CMIP5 database at ETH. Finally, we thank X. Lee and colleagues for making the observational data available.

Author information

Author notes

    • Quentin Lejeune

    Present address: Climate Analytics, Berlin, Germany

Affiliations

  1. Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Quentin Lejeune
    • , Edouard L. Davin
    • , Lukas Gudmundsson
    •  & Sonia I. Seneviratne
  2. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

    • Johannes Winckler

Authors

  1. Search for Quentin Lejeune in:

  2. Search for Edouard L. Davin in:

  3. Search for Lukas Gudmundsson in:

  4. Search for Johannes Winckler in:

  5. Search for Sonia I. Seneviratne in:

Contributions

Q.L., E.L.D. and S.I.S. designed the research. Q.L., J.W. and E.L.D. developed the reconstruction methodology. Q.L. and L.G. defined the methodology to assess uncertainties in the reconstructions. Q.L. conducted the analysis with input from all authors. Q.L, S.I.S., E.L.D. and L.G. conceived the structure of the letter. Q.L and E.L.D. wrote the paper. All authors commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Quentin Lejeune.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Material S1, Supplementary Material S2 (Table S1), Supplementary Material S3 (Table S2), Supplementary Figures S1 and S2, and Supplementary References

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0131-z