Article “Mesoscale Climate Change Due To Lowland Deforestation In The Maritime Tropics” By van der Molen Et Al 2011

An article that we worked on several years ago has finally appeared in a publication from Cambridge University Press. It is

van der Molen, M.K., H.F. Vugts, L.A. Bruijnzeel, F.N. Scatena, R.A. Pielke Sr, and L.J.M. Kroon, 2011: Mesoscale climate change due to lowland deforestation in the maritime tropics. p 527-537 in: L.A. Bruijnzeel, F.N. Scatena and L.S. Hamilton (Eds) Tropical Montane Cloud Forests: Science for conservation and management, 768 pp.International hydrology series, Cambridge University Press, New York. ISBN: 978-0-521-76035-5.

The abstract reads

“Annual precipitation on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico decreased steadily during the 20th century, on average by 16 %. The reduced rainfall manifested itself in the form of regular water rationings during the 1990s which hit millions of inhabitants. Simultaneous with the reduction in rainfall there was widespread deforestation, notably in the coastal lowlands. This paper examines the link between the reduction in precipitation and the land cover change using a combination of energy balance measurements and mesoscale atmospheric modelling.

The explanation of the reduction in precipitation appears to be quite different than expected. Based on measurements made earlier over rainforest and pasture in the Amazon, a forest covered island would be expected to be cooler because the higher transpiration -of the forest compared to grassland- tends to cool the surface. During an intensive measurement campaign on Puerto Rico, the opposite appeared to be the case: transpiration by a coastal wetland forest proved to be less than that for a grassland. In addition, the forest albedo was 8 % lower than that for grassland. Together, these two factors caused the sensible heat flux over the forest to be twice as high as that over the grassland, whereas forest evaporation was lower.

The surface energy balance observations over forest and grassland were used to derive proper land surface parameterizations, which were implemented in a mesoscale atmospheric circulation model (RAMS) to simulate the meteorological effects of island wide deforestation. The model simulations indicated that the development of a sea breeze during the day dominates climate on the island. Sea breezes develop when the land surface is warmer than the surrounding ocean. In model runs, where the island was assumed to be completely covered with forest, the sea breeze was considerably stronger than in model runs where the vegetation had been transformed to grassland. Along the sea breeze front, convergence caused upward air motions. As this happens more strongly over a forested island, more clouds are formed but at a higher elevation, with an estimated 10-20 % enhancement of precipitation compared to a deforested island. In the deforested scenario the cloud base was typically lowered by 200 m.

Refinement of the model is required to obtain more accurate estimates of the changes in precipitation, although most likely the relevant processes have been determined. This project has offered new insights into the effects of climate change and may contribute to improved land use and water resources policies on Puerto Rico.”

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