Afforestation impact on soil temperature in regional climate model simulations over Europe


In the context of the first phase of the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment in the European domain (EURO-CORDEX) flagship plot study on Land Use and Climate Across Scales (LUCAS), we investigate the biophysical impact of afforestation on the seasonal cycle of soil temperature over the European continent with an ensemble of 10 regional climate models. For this purpose, each ensemble member performed two idealized land cover experiments in which Europe is covered either by forests or grasslands. The multi-model mean exhibits a reduction of the annual amplitude of soil temperature (AAST) due to afforestation over all European regions, although this is not a robust feature among the models. In the Mediterranean, the spread of simulated AAST response to afforestation is between −4 and +2 ∘C at 1 m below the ground, while in Scandinavia the inter-model spread ranges from −7 to +1 ∘C. We show that the large range in the simulated AAST response is due to the representation of the summertime climate processes and is largely explained by inter-model differences in leaf area index (LAI), surface albedo, cloud fraction and soil moisture, when all combined into a multiple linear regression. The changes in these drivers essentially determine the ratio between the increased radiative energy at surface (due to lower albedo in forests) and the increased sum of turbulent heat fluxes (due to mixing-facilitating characteristics of forests), and consequently decide the changes in soil heating with afforestation in each model. Finally, we pair FLUXNET sites to compare the simulated results with observation-based evidence of the impact of forest on soil temperature. In line with models, observations indicate a summer ground cooling in forested areas compared to open lands. The vast majority of models agree with the sign of the observed reduction in AAST, although with a large variation in the magnitude of changes. Overall, we aspire to emphasize the biophysical effects of afforestation on soil temperature profile with this study, given that changes in the seasonal cycle of soil temperature potentially perturb crucial biochemical processes. Robust knowledge on biophysical impacts of afforestation on soil conditions and its feedbacks on local and regional climate is needed in support of effective land-based climate mitigation and adaption policies.
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