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The climate sensitivity to human appropriation of vegetation productivity and its thermodynamic characterization


Kleidon,  A.
Research Group Biospheric Theory and Modelling, Dr. A. Kleidon, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Kleidon, A. (2006). The climate sensitivity to human appropriation of vegetation productivity and its thermodynamic characterization. Global and Planetary Change, 54(1-2), 109-127.

Humans appropriate terrestrial productivity to meet their food supply, their primary source of free energy. Removal of productivity from terrestrial vegetation has its direct impacts in that less energy is available for vegetation growth. Since vegetation strongly shapes the physical exchange of energy, water and momentum at the land surface, a lower ability for vegetation growth should affect this surface exchange, the overlying atmosphere, and therefore climate. Here I attempt to quantify the climate sensitivity to different intensities of human appropriation of vegetation productivity. I use sensitivity simulations with a coupled dynamic vegetation-climate system model of intermediate complexity in which I artificially remove different fractions of the simulated net primary productivity to implement human appropriation, thus reducing vegetation growth in the model. The simulations show noticeable differences in the surface energy- and water balance, with a consistent reduction in the amount of absorbed solar radiation and latent heat flux of up to 10 W m(-2) and 27 W m(-2) respectively and a reduction in continental precipitation by up to 30% in the global land mean when compared to the "Control" climate. However, the study also shows that mean land surface temperature is insensitive at the global scale despite pronounced regional patterns and is therefore not well suited to characterize the climatic sensitivity to land cover change at the global scale. I motivate the use of entropy production to characterize climate sensitivity. Entropy production is a thermodynamic measure of the strength of dissipative processes which perform physical work. With this measure, I show that the climate sensitivity is reflected as a clear trend towards less entropy production over land with increased intensity of human appropriation of NPP in general, and less entropy production by biotic activity in particular. I conclude that large-scale land cover changes are likely to lead to a noticeably different climate which is less favorable to biotic productivity and that this climate sensitivity is well captured by differences in entropy production as a meaningful, thermodynamic measure. (C) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. [References: 57]