Characterizing uncertainties in the ESA-CCI land cover map of the epoch 2010 and their impacts on MPI-ESM climate simulations


Limitations of mapping land surface properties and their conversion into climate model boundary conditions are major sources of uncertainty in climate simulations. In this paper, the range of the largest possible uncertainty in satellite-derived land cover (LC) map is estimated and its impact on climate simulations is quantified with the Earth System Model of the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology utilizing prescribed sea surface temperature and sea ice. Two types of uncertainty in the LC map are addressed: (i) uncertainty due to classification algorithm of spectral reflectance into LC classes, and (ii) uncertainty due to conversion of LC classes into the climate model vegetation distribution. For forest cover, each of them is about the same order of magnitude as the uncertainty range in recent observations (∼± 700 Mha). Superposing two sources of uncertainty results in LC maps that feature the range of vegetation deviation that is about the same order of magnitude as the recent (since year 1700) forest loss due to agriculture (forest cover uncertainty range ∼± 1700 Mha). These uncertainties in vegetation distribution lead to noticeable variations in near-surface climate variables, local, regional, and global climate forcing. Temperature does not show significant uncertainty in global mean, but rather exhibits regional deviations with an opposite response to LC uncertainty that compensate each other in the global mean (e.g., albedo feedback controls temperature in boreal North America resulting in cooling (warming) with decrease (increase) of vegetation while evaporative cooling controls temperature in South America and sub-Saharan Africa resulting in cooling (warming) with increase (decrease) of vegetation). Large-scale circulation is also affected by the LC uncertainty, and consequently precipitation pattern as well. It is demonstrated that precipitation uncertainty in the monsoonal regions are about the same order of magnitude as in previous studies with idealized perturbations of vegetation. These findings indicate that the range of uncertainty in satellite-derived vegetation maps for climate models is about the same order of magnitude as the uncertainty in recent observations of forest cover or as the forest lost due to agriculture. Consequently, climate simulations have a similar range of uncertainty in variables representing near-surface climate as the observed climate change due to land use. Hence, more accurate methods are needed for mapping and converting LC properties into model vegetation in order to increase reliability of climate model simulations.
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