The simulated atmospheric response to expansion of the Arctic boreal forest biome

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Over the last century, the Arctic has warmed at twice the rate of the planet as a whole. Observational evidence indicates that this rapid warming is affecting the tundra and boreal forest biomes by changing their structure and geographic distribution. A global climate model (GCM) was used to explore the atmospheric response to boreal forest expansion by applying a one-grid cell shift of the forest into tundra. This subtle shift is meant to represent the expansion that would occur this century rather than more extreme scenarios predicted by dynamic vegetation models. Results show that this shift causes an average annual warming of 0.3 °C over the region because of a reduction in the surface albedo and an increase in net radiation. A warming of ~1.0 °C occurs in spring when the forest masks the higher albedo snow-covered surface and results in snowmelt and a reduction in cloud cover. Results fail to show a larger-scale dynamical response although some warming of the lower and mid troposphere occurs in July. No changes were found in the position or strength of the Arctic frontal zone as some studies have indicated will occur with a shift in the boreal forest-tundra boundary. These findings suggest that coupled model simulations that predict larger changes in vegetation distribution are likely overemphasizing the amount of Arctic warming that will occur this century. These findings also indicate that a realistic dynamical response to subtle land cover change might not be correctly simulated by GCMs run at coarse spatial resolutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-503
Number of pages17
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study and the material herein are based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under grant No. ATM-0840048 and the University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment grant No. RC-0010-11.


  • Arctic
  • Boreal forest
  • Climate change
  • Global climate model


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