The sensitivity of land-atmosphere coupling to modern agriculture in the northern midlatitudes

Sonali Shukla Mcdermid, Carlo Montes, Benjamin I. Cook, Michael J. Puma, Nancy Y. Kiang, Igor Aleinov

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Modern agricultural land cover and management are important as regional climate forcings. Previous work has shown that land cover change can significantly impact key climate variables, including turbulent fluxes, precipitation, and surface temperature. However, fewer studies have investigated how intensive crop management can impact background climate conditions, such as the strength of land-atmosphere coupling and evaporative regime. We conduct sensitivity experiments using a state-of-the-art climate model with modified vegetation characteristics to represent modern crop cover and management, using observed crop-specific leaf area indexes and calendars. We quantify changes in land-atmosphere interactions and climate over intensively cultivated regions situated at transitions between moisture- and energy-limited conditions. Results show that modern intensive agriculture has significant and geographically varying impacts on regional evaporative regimes and background climate conditions. Over the northern Great Plains, modern crop intensity increases the model simulated precipitation and soil moisture, weakening hydrologic coupling by increasing surface water availability and reducing moisture limits on evapotranspiration. In the U.S. Midwest, higher growing season evapotranspiration, coupled with winter and spring rainfall declines, reduces regional soil moisture, while crop albedo changes also reduce net surface radiation. This results overall in reduced dependency of regional surface temperature on latent heat fluxes. In central Asia, a combination of reduced net surface energy and enhanced pre-growing season precipitation amplify the energy-limited evaporative regime. These results highlight the need for improved representations of agriculture in global climate models to better account for regional climate impacts and interactions with other anthropogenic forcings.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)465-484
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Climate
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


    • Atmosphere-land interaction
    • Climate sensitivity
    • Feedback

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Atmospheric Science


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