U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Deforestation Drives Cooling at Mid- to High Latitudes
Published: November 16, 2011
Posted: February 23, 2012

Deforestation in mid- to high latitudes is hypothesized to have the potential to cool the Earth's surface by altering biophysical processes. When continental-scale land clearing is included in climate models, cooling is triggered by increases in surface albedo and is reinforced by a land albedo-sea ice feedback. This feedback is a key component of the model predictions; without it other processes overwhelm the albedo effect to generate warming. Ongoing activities, such as land management for climate mitigation, are occurring at local scales (hectares) presumably too small to generate the feedback. It is not known if the intrinsic biophysical mechanism on its own can consistently change surface temperatures. The effect of deforestation on climate has also not been demonstrated over large areas from direct observations. Now, DOE researchers show that surface air temperature is lower in open land than in nearby forested land. The effect is 0.85°±0.44K (mean ± one standard deviation) north of 45°N (essentially north of the U.S.-Canadian border) and 0.21°±0.53K southwards. Below 35°N (south of Tennessee, all of Texas and New Mexico, and southern California), there is weak evidence that deforestation leads to warming. Results are based on temperature comparisons at forested eddy covariance towers in the United States and Canada and, as a proxy for small areas of cleared land, nearby surface weather stations. Night-time temperature changes unrelated to changes in surface albedo are also an important contributor to the overall cooling effect. The observed latitudinal dependence is consistent with theoretical expectations of changes in energy loss from convection and radiation across latitudes in both the daytime and night-time phase of the diurnal cycle, the latter of which remains uncertain in climate models.

Reference: Lee, X., M. L. Goulden, D. Y. Hollinger, A. Barr, T. A. Black, G. Bohrer, R. Bracho, B. Drake, A. Goldstein, L. Gu, G. Katul, T. Kolb, B. E. Law, H. Margolis, T. Meyers, R. Monson, W. Munger, R. Oren, K. T. Paw, A. D. Richardson, H. P. Schmid, R. Stabler, S. Wofsy, and L. Zhao. 2011. “Observed Increase in Local Cooling Effect of Deforestation at Higher Latitudes,” Nature 479, 384-87. DOI: 10.1038/nature10588. (Reference link)

Contact: Mike Kuperberg, SC-23.1, (301) 903-3281, Daniel Stover, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0289
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)