Articles | Volume 11, issue 11
Research article
25 Nov 2015
Research article |  | 25 Nov 2015

Transitivity of the climate–vegetation system in a warm climate

U. Port and M. Claussen

Abstract. To date, the transitivity of the global system has been analysed for late Quaternary (glacial, interglacial, and present-day) climate. Here, we extend this analysis to a warm, almost ice-free climate with a different configuration of continents. We use the Earth system model of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology to analyse the stability of the climate system under early Eocene and pre-industrial conditions. We initialize the simulations by prescribing either dense forests or bare deserts on all continents. Starting with desert continents, an extended desert remains in central Asia in the early Eocene climate. Starting with dense forest coverage, the Asian desert is much smaller, while coastal deserts develop in the Americas which appear to be larger than in the simulations with initially bare continents. These differences can be attributed to differences in the large-scale tropical circulation. With initially forested continents, a stronger dipole in the 200 hPa velocity potential develops than in the simulation with initially bare continents. This difference prevails when vegetation is allowed to adjust to and interact with climate. Further simulations with initial surface conditions that differ in the region of the Asian desert only indicate that local feedback processes are less important in the development of multiple states. In the interglacial, pre-industrial climate, multiple states develop only in the Sahel region. There, local climate–vegetation interaction seems to dominate.