Role of vegetation in sustaining large-scale atmospheric circulations in the tropics

Title Role of vegetation in sustaining large-scale atmospheric circulations in the tropics
Publication Type Journal Article
Year of Publication 1996
Authors Eltahir, E. A. B.
Volume 101
Date Published 1996
Keywords west africa

The focus of this paper is the role of rain forests in large-scale atmospheric circulations. The significance of this role is investigated by studying the response of the tropical atmosphere to a perturbation in the state of vegetation (deforestation) over three regions: the Amazon, Congo, and Indonesia. A theory is developed to relate tropical deforestation and the resulting changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation. Field observations and numerical simulations support the argument that tropical deforestation reduces the total net surface radiation, including terrestrial and solar forms. However, the energy balance at the land-atmosphere boundary dictates that for equilibrium conditions, any reduction in net surface radiation has to be balanced by a similar reduction in the total flux of heat, including sensible and latent forms. Since these fluxes supply heat as well as entropy from the forest into the atmospheric boundary layer, a reduction in the total flux of heat reduces the boundary layer entropy. In a moist atmosphere, that satisfies a quasi equilibrium between moist convection and radiative forcing, the equilibrium temperature profile is uniquely related to the boundary layer entropy. Under such conditions, large-scale deforestation reduces boundary layer entropy relative to the surroundings, cools the upper troposphere, and results in subsidence, divergent flow in the boundary layer, and weakening of the large-scale circulation. These changes are simulated using a simple linear model of atmospheric flow. The comparison of the model predictions with observations of atmospheric circulations over the Amazon, Congo, and Indonesia suggests a significant role for vegetation in maintaining large-scale atmospheric circulations in the tropics.

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