20 March, 2024

Effects of idealised land cover and land management changes on the atmospheric water cycle


Steven De Hertog, Carmen Lopez-Fabara, Ruud van der Ent, Jessica Keune, Diego Miralles, Raphael Portmann, Sebastian Schemm, Felix Havermann, Suqi Guo, Fei Luo, Iris Manola, Quentin Lejeune, Julia Pongratz, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, Sonia Seneviratne, and Wim Thiery

Land cover and land management changes (LCLMCs) play an important role in achieving low-end warming scenarios through land-based mitigation. However, their effects on moisture fluxes and recycling remain uncertain, although they have important implications for the future viability of such strategies. Here, we analyse the impact of idealised LCLMC scenarios on atmospheric moisture transport in three different Earth system model (ESMs): the Community Earth System Model (CESM), the Max Planck Institute Earth System Model (MPI-ESM), and the European Consortium Earth System Model (EC-EARTH).

The LCLMC scenarios comprise of a full cropland world, a fully afforested world, and a cropland world with unlimited irrigation expansion. The effects of these LCLMC in the different ESMs are analysed for precipitation, evaporation, and vertically integrated moisture flux convergence to understand the LCLMC-induced changes in the atmospheric moisture cycle. Then, a moisture tracking algorithm is applied to assess the effects of LCLMC on moisture recycling at the local (grid cell level) and the global scale (continental moisture recycling). By applying a moisture tracking algorithm on fully coupled ESM simulations we are able to quantify the complete effects of LCLMC on moisture recycling (including circulation changes), which are generally not considered in moisture recycling studies.

Our results indicate that cropland expansion is generally causing a drying and reduced local moisture recycling, while afforestation and irrigation expansion generally cause wetting and increased local moisture recycling. However, the strength of this effect varies across ESMs and shows a large dependency on the dominant driver. Some ESMs show a dominance of large-scale atmospheric circulation changes while other ESMs show a dominance of local to regional changes in the atmospheric water cycle only within the vicinity of the LCLMC.

Overall, these result corroborate that LCLMC can induce substantial effects on the atmospheric water cycle and moisture recycling, both through local effects and changes in atmospheric circulation. However, more research is needed to constrain the uncertainty of these effects within ESMs to better inform future land-based mitigation strategies